America is the 37th Greatest Nation on Earth (in 13 Charts)


The US celebrated its birthday recently, spawning a huge round of WE’RE THE GREATEST NATION ON EARTH® on Facebook.

I decided to take a look at the data surrounding all the things that make nations great. Since we’re America, let’s start with…

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness


We rank 46th in life expectancy.

US life expectancy

Closely related to life is health, where nearly three dozen nations outrank the US.


We have terrible health outcomes, but we spend twice as much as the countries ranked above us (or more).

healthcare expenditures by country


The Cato Institute, a prominent libertarian think tank, says 15 other countries are freer than the US.


Freedom House, a more mainline “freedom watchdog” is less kind, ranking us 62nd globally.


(There’s some irony here, given that Freedom House’s chairman is one of the Patriot Act’s co-authors.)


For me this is the one that matters most. All other measures are subsets. So, how did we do?

The World Happiness Report ranks us 14th.


Peace & Prosperity?

We’ve been at war been at war 226 out of 244 years since 1776 – that’s 93% of the time – and the Global Peace Index for 2021 ranks us 122nd in the world.


How about prosperity? This one is tricky, but let’s have a look.

The Legatum Prosperity Index ranks us 18th overall. I encourage you to click through and do some more detailed analysis on your own. The US numbers are buoyed by “business climate” metrics (the four columns in the middle), but we don’t do nearly as well on measures of basic public well-being.


This is clearly related to an issue we’ve heard a lot about in recent years: income inequality. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has done some deep, nuanced research on the subject.

On its Gini Coefficient (“the comparison of cumulative proportions of the population against cumulative proportions of income they receive”), the United States ranks 33rd, just above Bulgaria, Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica.


It’s a hair worse if you look at the gap between the top 10% and the rest of the population.


We’re Smart, Though – Sorta

The US performs better on education and intelligence criteria. For instance, OECD data ranks us 6th on high school (or equivalent) graduation.

HS graduation rates


Drawing on World Atlas data, Forbes says we’re the 4th “cleverest country” in the world.


This conclusion may be a bit dodgy in that it relies heavily on number of Nobels won. This is certainly a huge deal, but it also speaks to a) the money available to spend attracting academic talent, and b) an ed inequality gap of sorts. It tells us about our very smartest, but little about the average.

26th in IQ ranking – not an uncontroversial standard, granted. 13th in test performance.

Meanwhile, World Population Review ranks us 35th in IQ.IQ-by-country

In Conclusion…

If there’s one thing hundreds of millions of Americans agree on, it’s that America is great. But the data provides little support.

There’s no arguing the raw potential of our people – if we all set our mind toward a worthy goal there’s no telling what we could do. But that’s fantasy for now.

If we want to actually be what we think we are, the first step is simple: let’s stop patting ourselves on the back.


  • But at least the United States produces the most changes on the face of the earth. In its cultural industries, Hollywood’s eye candy and moralizing leads the way to defining a world standard morality. In technology, Americans were the first to make computers and have dominated that industry ever since. No, America is great.

  • Well, I like it here.

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