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The best and worst countries to be born into today

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Updated Tue, January 8th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

Poverty, violence and/or lack of freedom define the worst countries to be born into.

Countries with violence, poverty or political oppression all rank poorly, but the variance within the bottom fifth or so are fascinating. The worst three countries to be born into, in order from the bottom up, are Nigeria, Kenya and Ukraine. 

Some of the bottom-ranked countries are not actually so poor, such as Russia, which has bad records on political rights and public health. Ecuador, backsliding on political rights, is the sole low-scoring country in an otherwise optimistic-looking Latin America.

Though countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam are projected to show astounding economic growth over the next generation, they are poor today. This map is a reminder that being born into a poor society, even one that offers opportunities for new wealth, can still mean life-long challenges.

Inequality plus poverty is much worse than just plain poverty.

Three telling cases here are Angola, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, all of which scored much lower than I’d have expected. Both Angola and Kazakhstan are enjoying rapid economic growth from energy and mineral exports, and Ukraine is a middle-income democracy. But all three have severe and worsening problems with economic inequality, which in turn are fueling corruption and poor governance.

You’re worse off being born in any of these three countries, according to the data, than you are just about anywhere else, including Sri Lanka, a poor hotbed of ethnic violence, oppressive Vietnam, or even Syria. Pakistan places higher than Angola or Ukraine but just below Kazakhstan.

China is still not a great place to be born.

The country ranks 49th out of 80, just below Latvia and Hungary. That’s an amazing finding, given that China now has the second-largest number of billionaires in the world after the United States and might some day have the most. You would think that, with so many Chinese families catapulting to higher status within a society that is itself seeing historic gains, China would be a great place to be born in 2013.

The statistics are a reminder that, for all of China’s astounding gains, those gains have not benefited all Chinese equally. About half of the country is still rural and 128 million are still below the poverty line. Even in the big coastal cities, the rising cost of living, stalled political freedoms and worsening income inequality mean that the next 20 or 30 years may not be prosperous for a lot of families.

So, if you’re a Westerner fretting about American decline or European collapse, then if nothing else, know that your children have still lucked into one of the best deals in history: being born in the right place at the right time.

 

 

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