Vietnam World's Fifth Happiest Country, For Now
Brett Davis , CONTRIBUTOR
Vietnam has been ranked the fifth happiest country in the world in a study by the UK think tank the New Economics Foundation.
The Happy Planet Index report measured elements that contribute towards a happy life in 140 countries and looked at factors such as life expectancy, wellbeing, inequality and ecological footprint.
The list was topped by Costa Rica, followed by Mexico, Columbia and Vanuatu, making Vietnam the happiest country in Asia. Calculate your own Happy Planet Index
Life expectancy in Vietnam is a healthy 75.5 years, not bad at all for a developing nation. By way of comparison, life expectancy in the US is 78.8 years (overall the US ranked as the 108th happiest country).
Wellbeing measure how people view their quality of life, while inequality looked at how unequal the distribution of life expectance and experienced wellbeing results were within a country.
Vietnam’s score in the latter category was actually better than Costa Rica’s, and was attributed in large part to the strong provision of public services such as education. School enrolments in Vietnam, at 98 percent, are among the highest in the world.
Vietnam has also done a great job of reducing poverty. In the early 90s more than half the population lived below the poverty line, it is now in the single digits. At the same time, the country’s ecological foot print is very low.
This measure of consumption gauges the land area needed to produce the resources to sustain each person, with Vietnam coming in at 1.7 global hectares per person. This made it one of the few nations with an ecological footprint that could be considered actually sustainable.
However, changes are afoot in the country that may upend these numbers and it poses something of a conundrum for the country. The rapid development that has seen so many millions lifted out of poverty had also seen a similar rise in consumption and ecological footprint.
The government has set out an ambitious development agenda for the next decade, although it has made nods towards environmental protections and sustainability goals. On the ground, though, doing business and economic development seems to come before all else. This has resulted in some high-profile environmental calamities, but there are other, smaller-scale incidents on an almost daily basis that garner little attention.
At the same time there is also a widening gap in wealth and opportunity in the country. A 2014 World Bank report found the instances of income inequality in Vietnam are not much different from other countries, but they do follow global trends.
For the country’s ethnic minorities, however, things are much bleaker with significantly higher rates of poverty and lack of opportunity. Some children of ethnic minorities have upper secondary schooling rates of as low as 13 percent.
So, Vietnam has been a legitimate economic success story over the last three decades. But it just may develop its way out of becoming one of the nicer places in the world to live.
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