Where to be born or how to live?

The good folks over at WOND published the infographic below based on calculations done by the Economic Intelligence Unit and published by The Economist 


Apart from the obvious questions and discussions around what is measured in these sorts of analysis and the fact that the criteria in the 1988 results were different than the 2013 criteria it does pose some interesting questions.

The first is time frames. If you read the background material presented on the report then it seems that they have chosen forecasts (economic at least) for 2030 when someone born in 2013 would be 17 (or an adult in their view). While it cannot be doubted that being in the right place at the right time when you are 17 and having access to job or education opportunities is important the world has changed. Issues of people changing careers 4 or 5 times in a lifetime or indeed not really having a career as such any more means that longer term views on opportunities need more examination.

The second is that are opportunities and prospects still rooted in geographical location as much as they were, and what will be the case in 20 or 50 years time? With the rise of digital nomads, and global connections and opportunities the map of opportunity is much more complex than geographical location. Of course access to money and technology will influence those opportunities as well but with the innovation occurring in Africa in mobile payment systems and cheap smartphone technology, and the leapfrogging of wired data systems I think we overestimate the advantages of that access as defined by a developed country.

The third is the value of longer term forecasts. If we are talking about opportunities that include economic ones but are far exceeded by a whole range of other issues, and will matter across nine decades then we must question forecasts used to think about these things. In a faster moving, more connected, and more complex world the value of forecasts is falling an therefore the validity of making decisions on them is being sorely tested.

Back in 1955 when my father met my mother he told her that no matter what happened he was emigrating to Australia or Canada. My mother thought “get him settled down with some kids and that won’t happen”. Three kids later and after returning to University and getting a PhD at 30 he moved us all to Australia. I am very glad he did (and not based on Australia being No 2 in the report). Being here has given us a life and opportunities that I think have far exceeded those we would have had in England.

That move was based on my father’s view of where England and Australia were heading at the time and I think have been proven correct. If I was sitting down to do the same assessment and making such a huge life changing decision now I think I would be less certain but less worried about that uncertainty. How we choose to live will be far more important than where we live in the future (with the obvious caveat that living in a slum in a developing country will not provide the opportunities that being well off in an affluent country will bring).

I might bring this up as a topic at our annual Australia Day family barbecue on Sunday and see what my parents think.

Paul Higgins


2 thoughts on “Where to be born or how to live?

  1. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. My father emigrated from the UK to Norway (just below Australia on the list above!) to marry my mother in 1961, and he has told me that they did discuss which of the two countries would give their unborn children the best opportunities in life.

    They settled on Norway, and looking at my relatives in the UK it is very hard to disagree with their choice. Like Australia in your case, Norway has given my siblings and I much better opportunities for education, work and a safe and healthy family life than, say, my British cousins.

    So yes, where you were born did matter a lot in those days.

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