By Olivia Ward.
The UN's verdict is in: Canadians have the fourth-best quality of life in the world, behind top-rated Norway, Australia and Iceland.
And Canada again surpasses the wealthier United States, which has slid from 12th to 13th place between 2006 and 2007, the last year for which international data was tabulated. Canada's position is unchanged since 2006.
The figures are tallied by the United Nations Development Program's annual Human Development Index, which analyzes the statistics of 182 countries.
"It shows that development can be measured not just through output or economic growth," said David Morrison, executive secretary of the UN's Capital Development Fund. "Because of Canada's well-developed social systems it traditionally scores at the top of the table."
The results come at a time when the U.S. is in a bitter debate over a new medical-care system, and critics warn against Canadian-style "socialism." The UNDP's annual index weighs individual purchasing power alongside educational achievements and life expectancy.
At the bottom of the quality of life scale is destitute Niger. Only a cut above is Afghanistan, in spite of billions of dollars of development money that has been earmarked for the war-torn country. It was rated for the first time this year, after decades of conflict that made it impossible to collect vital data.
Most of the country ratings have varied little over the past few years, although the worldwide economic downturn may alter them more dramatically when 2008 results appear next year. "One or two points difference doesn't signify very much," said Morrison.
The most notable advance for 2007 was made by China, which leapt seven points on the scale to 92nd place. It was followed by Colombia and Peru, which gained five points each to 77th and 78th places. The biggest reversal was Jamaica, which plunged by eight points, while Tonga dropped by five.
The vast discrepancies in the well-being of people in the upper- and lower-scoring countries that were highlighted by the report linked up with the theme chosen by the UNDP this year. It focused on migration, and the millions of people who leave poor countries in search of safer or better lives, and create a better quality of life for themselves and their families back home.
"Most migrants, internal and international, reap gains in the form of higher incomes, better access to education and health and improved prospects for their children," the report concluded.
Although the benefits of migration are a "hot button issue" at a time of recession, said Morrison, fears that migrants will steal jobs in their host countries, or lower wages by offering cheap labour, are exaggerated.
HOW THE WORLD RANKS
The annual United Nations human development index compiled by the UN Development Program ranks 182 countries based on such criteria as life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.
3. Iceland (likely to drop in next survey since 2007 data was analyzed prior to global economic crisis)
4. Canada (has one of the most open immigration policies around)
10. Japan (longest life expectancy at 82.7 years on average)
13. United States
19. Liechtenstein (highest GDP per capita at $85,383)
20. New Zealand
21. United Kingdom
92. China (moves up seven places from last year, rise credited to improvements in education as well as income levels and life expectancy.)
THE BOTTOM THREE
180. Sierra Leone
181. Afghanistan (life expectancy of 43.6 years, only Asian country in the bottom 10)