Nation’s 2016 Ranking Plummets From 6thin 1990; China Sees Increase In Ranking From 69th To 44th Study Of ‘Human Capital’ Yields Other Unexpected Results Over 26-Year Period
Failure To Invest In Education And Health Risks Economic Future
The United States ranks 27th in the world for its investments in education and health care as measurements of its commitment to economic growth, according to the first-ever scientific study ranking countries for their levels of human capital. The study, “Measuring human capital: A systematic analysis of 195 countries and territories, 1990 to 2016,” was published in the international medical journal The Lancet.
The nation placed just behind Australia (ranked 26th) and just ahead of Czech Republic (ranked 28th). In contrast, China’s ranking of 44th in 2016 represents an increase from its 1990 ranking of 69th.
“The decline of human capital in the United States was one of the biggest surprises in our study,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. “Our findings show the association between investments in education and health and improved human capital and GDP – which policymakers here in the US ignore at their own peril. As the world economy grows increasingly dependent on digital technology, from agriculture to manufacturing to the service industry, human capital grows increasingly important for stimulating local and national economies.”
Human capital is the sum total of a population’s health, skills, knowledge, experience, and habits. It is a concept that recognizes that not all labor is equal, and the quality of workers can be improved by investing in them.
The US’s ranking of 27th in 2016 represents a significant decrease from its 1990 ranking of 6th. It comes from having 23 years of expected human capital, measured as the number of years a person can be expected to work in the years of peak productivity, taking into account life expectancy, functional health, years of schooling, and learning.
“Clearly, China is on an upward trajectory, while the US, without more strategic investments, especially in education, risks falling behind even further,” Murray said.
The study was based on a systematic analysis of an extensive array of data from numerous sources, including government agencies, schools, and health care systems.
The study places Finland at the top. Turkey showed the most dramatic increase in human capital between 1990 and 2016; Asian countries with notable improvement include China, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam. Within Latin America, Brazil stands out for improvement. All these countries have had faster economic growth over this period than peer countries with lower levels of human capital improvement.
In addition, the greatest increase among sub-Saharan African countries was in Equatorial Guinea. Some of the world’s most rapid improvements were in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Over the past quarter century, there has been limited progress in building human capital in selected countries that started at a high baseline. The US was ranked sixth in human capital in 1990 but dropped to 27th in 2016 because of minimal progress, particularly in educational attainment, which declined from 13 years to 12.
Health and education advocates, economists, and others should use the findings as evidence to argue for greater attention to – and resources for – improving their nations’ human capital.
Researchers found that nations with greater improvements in human capital also tend to have faster growth in per capita GDP. Countries in the highest quartile of improvements in human capital between 1990 and 2016 had a 1.1% higher median yearly GDP growth rate than countries in the bottom quartile of human capital improvements. For example, between 2015 and 2016, a 1.1% increase in the human capital growth rate in China equated to an additional $163 per capita; in Turkey, $268 per capita; and in Brazil, $177 per capita.