The US is the world’s largest national economy, and the epitome of industrialization. Because of its wealth, high standards of living, and availability of world-class services, many Americans believe theirs to be one of the better countries in the world to liveor even the outright best.
In 2015, the United Nations defined 17 goals for any country claiming to achieve complete sustainable development. Those goals range from ending poverty, to gender equality, to environmental preservation.
Using those goals to compare the US development to that of other wealthy nations, following the blueprint of a 2016 report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US performs scores dismally in most areas—such as healthcare, education, and violence.
The US has the second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries (poverty here measured by the percentage of people earning less than half the national median income.) According to a 2012 UNICEF study, 23.1% US kids live in poverty. Other studies place the number a little lower, at about 20%, but both numbers are much higher than in other advanced countries. For black and Hispanic American children, the poverty rate is even higher, at 36% and 31%.
Food security is reflected in both access to food and diet quality. The US leads OECD countries in obesity.
Americans spend nearly 17% of GDP on health care, with a yearly per capita cost of over $9,400. That’s $1,600 more than the second-highest spender, Luxembourg, and more than double the OECD average.
But while Americans spend enormously, they remain in relatively poor health. The US has fewer physicians, hospital beds, and psychiatric care beds than most other economically advanced countries, ranking towards the bottom in each of these parameters. The US is also the only advanced economy in the world not to have full health coverage of its population. Child mortality is higher in the US than any other advanced economy, and adult Americans also live shorter lives: Average US life expectancy is 78.8 years, nearly two years less than the OECD average. For comparison, Japan has the longest life expectancy in the OECD, at 83.7 years. The US also stands out as one of the only countries in the world where maternal mortality has increased, rather than decreasing, over the past 15 years. The US is also, with Lesotho, one of only two countries in the world that do not mandate paid maternity leave.
When it comes to education, US schools are mostly distinguished by their high cost. The US is among the five countries spending the most on education between pre-primary and secondary school. Plus, Americans spend far more on higher education: The cost (direct and indirect) of a tertiary degree in the US is around $110,000 for both men and women, against an OECD average of $50,000 for men and $40,000 for women. In the US, early childhood education is attended by fewer children (55% versus an OECD average of 84% attendance), at an older age (four years old, versus three years old), and can be administered by untrained professionals. Mostother high-income OECD countries have specific educator certification requirements. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the US fares just about average among OECD countries when it comes to basic literacy and problem solving skills. Advanced literacy in the US is below the OECD average. Basic numeracy in the US is lower than in most other wealthy OECD nations.
The share of US women who experience violence in their lifetime is much higher than the OECD average. US women’s political representation also leaves much to be desired, with less than 20% of congressional seats occupied by women. Sweden, the OECD leader, has nearly 45% in its national parliament, and the global average is nearly 27%. Female representation on the boards of publicly traded US companies is also below OECD average. To top it off, the gender wage gap is also bigger in the US.
Americans work more time to make less money than most of their OECD counterparts. The US has the highest income inequality of all rich countries. Income inequality is calculated by the OECD combining several indexes, including a ratio of the income of the highest 10% and of the lowest 10%.
Deaths by assault are almost five times as high in the US as the OECD average (with the exception of Mexico).
The US also has one of the highest ratios of childhood death by injury (both intentional and unintentional). This accounts for nearly half of all US childrens’ deaths.
Only 12% of US energy output is renewable, far below the European, world and OECD average.
When it comes to democratic institution, the US has one of the lowest turnouts among high-income countries. (The US is one of the few countries where eligible citizens aren’t automatically registered to vote.)