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Switzerland fails to make the grade in life quality survey

Despite its idyllic image, Switzerland ranked behind Norway, Canada and Belgium (pic: swiss image) Despite its idyllic image, Switzerland ranked behind Norway, Canada and Belgium (pic: swiss image)

Switzerland has failed to make the top ten in a United Nations index assessing the quality of life in 173 countries.

For the second year running, Switzerland ranked 11th in the survey, a slip of six places since 1990. Norway came top, closely followed by Sweden, Canada, Belgium and outranking the United States. Iceland, the Netherlands, Japan and Finland also made it into the top ten.

Switzerland came ahead of France, Britain, Austria, Luxembourg and Germany.

The survey, published by the Geneva-based UN Development Agency, assesses quality of life as a composite measure of life expectancy, education and income per person.

Skewed criteria

Switzerland’s slide down the rankings scale should not be taken too seriously, Jean Fabre, deputy director of UNDP in Geneva, told swissinfo. The criteria used to measure countries – including those on either extremes of the spectrum – meant that the top countries all performed comparatively well.

“It’s not very significant [that Switzerland slid to 11th spot] because Switzerland is at a very high level of human development,” Fabre said.

The criteria used to assess quality of life penalised Switzerland in some cases, for example in the field of education.

While the United States scored an enrolment ratio of 95 per cent, Switzerland scored 84 per cent. But that does not mean that it has performed better than Switzerland, Fabre stressed.

Enrolment in primary school is almost 100 per cent and secondary level is very high, Fabre said.

“But when you look at tertiary level, the system differs from other countries so the way that it is reported is also different. Switzerland has two tracks – one is the regular tertiary track and the other is the vocational training system and people are not accounted for in the same way.”

Poor performers

The UN survey found that many countries are worse off that they were in 1990. “Fifty-two countries are ending the decade poorer than they were at the beginning… More people in the city of New York are connected to the Internet than in the entire sub-Saharan Africa,” Fabre noted.

Earnings per head had sunk to below their 1990-levels in 60 countries. In Bolivia, Saudi Arabia and Jamaica, earnings dived to below their 1980s levels.

Sierra Leone is still ranked last, with life expectancy estimated at less than 39 years. The bottom 24 countries were all in Africa.

Despite wealthy countries ranking high on the index, the survey emphasised that per capita income alone was insufficient to improve the lives of ordinary people.

Vietnam and Pakistan, for example, have similar incomes, but Vietnam did more to invest that income into education and health care, the report said.

Frail democracy

The report also warned that many nations were in danger of lapsing into authoritarianism because of economic inequities or corruption.

In a scorecard on democracy over the last decade, the report found that 140 nations were classified as democracies because they held multi-party elections. But in practice, only 81 of them had fully democratic institutions.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR