Countries often use various measures to different degrees in order to explain their wealth. Below we outline the top 10 countries in the world based on disposable income per capita—identifying the countries with the most money per capita. Money per capita can refer to income per capita, money supply per capita, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, or even net worth per capita. Income per capita can refer to discretionary income per capita or disposable income per capita, for example.
- One way to measure a country's wealth is based on disposable income per capita, which refers to the income left over for spending and saving after subtracting taxes.
- The country with the largest household disposable income is the United States, which has $50,292 per capita.
- Other countries with high household disposable incomes include Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia.
Disposable Income Per Capita Defined
Disposable income is measured by income left over after only accounting for effective taxes. It is the money left over for spending and savings after subtracting taxes on gross income. Think of disposable income as the money you take in without taking out your necessary expenses, such as mortgage payments, groceries, and health insurance, but less the taxes paid.
Income minus these expenses and taxes lead to discretionary income—that income which is available for entertainment and other expenses not necessary for survival. Per capita simply means per person and is often used in economic circles. Thus, disposable income per capita for a country is calculated by adding all the gross income for the country minus taxes and dividing the sum by the country's population.
This differs from purchasing power parity (PPP), which is another method of measuring a country’s wealth. PPP is used to compare prices for goods across countries, with the Big Mac Index being one of the most famous examples of PPP.
The following disposable income per capita figures for the top 10 countries are from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as of 2018 (the year for which the most recent data is available). Disposable income per capita is specifically the household net-adjusted disposable income per capita according to the OECD and all amounts listed are in U.S. dollars.
1. United States
The United States, with its 328.2 million people, tops the list with a money per capita measure of $50,292. The country’s GDP comes in at $21.4 trillion—the largest GDP on our list and the world's largest economy since 1871. Key industries for the United States include technology, health care, manufacturing, and financial services.
The small country of Luxembourg, with a population of just around 613,000, has $47,139 in money per capita, putting it as the second country in the world when it comes to disposable income per capita. This European country, nestled between Germany, France, and Belgium, has a GDP of $71.1 billion as of 2019. For context, consider the U.S. GDP, which comes in at about 300 times Luxembourg’s GDP at $21.4 trillion. Much of Luxembourg’s economic success has been derived from banking, where the country has grown into a global financial center.
With money per capita of $41,561, Switzerland has a GDP of $703.8 billion and a population of 8.6 million. The country has a stable market economy, favorable taxation laws, strong financial and tourism sectors, and a skilled workforce. Switzerland's main exports are pharmaceutical products, chemicals, watches, textiles, machinery, and equipment.
Germany commands $40,699 in money per capita. Germany is home to approximately 83 million people and is a major exporter, notably of cars, being home to major car brands such as Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW. Germany is also a major exporter of chemicals and has a GDP of $3.8 trillion.
Australia's household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is $40,237. Australia has a GDP of $1.38 trillion and a population of almost 24.9 million people. The country is rich with natural resources, which is reflected in one of the primary engines of its economy—mining.
Norway has $39,555 in money per capita. With a population of 5.4 million people and a GDP of $402 billion, Norway makes its way with a natural resource-driven economy focused on oil, fisheries, and metals. Norway's sovereign wealth fund is worth just over $1 trillion and is funded largely by the country's oil industry.
The European country of Austria has $38,333 in money per capita. The country has 8.86 million people and a $446.1 billion GDP. Over the years, the country’s shift toward privatization, i.e. less regulation, has improved the economy. Much of the country’s economic growth is driven by the energy industry, where some 70% of energy consumption is from renewable sources.
Belgium, another European country, makes the top 10 list of countries based on money per capital with $36,044. Belgium has a population of 11.46 million and a GDP of $530.2 billion. The country is world-renowned for its chocolate shops and factories. Given its location, Belgium’s economic strong suit is exporting, notably vehicles and chemicals.
The Netherlands has money per capita of $35,740 and a GDP of $909.1 billion. Its population is 17.3 million and much of its recent success has come about due to natural gas discoveries. Much of the economy still runs on natural gas exports.
Canada rounds out the list with money per capita of $35,723. The country has a GDP of $1.7 trillion and a population of 37.6 million. The discovery of oil sands in Alberta has propelled the nation's economy and the country is one of the largest oil producers in the world. Other top exports include aircraft, coal, automobiles, and fertilizers.
What Drives Higher Average Incomes?
Disposable income, again, is different from discretionary income. Disposable income refers to the money remaining after taxes. Thus, changing spending habits can not impact disposable income. Instead, higher wages are key to boosting disposable income.
The key aspects of generating a higher disposable income per capita include a few factors. Ways to increase a country's income per capita can include lowering its population while keeping the income the same. However, that may be tough to maintain, or do, as the trend for most countries is a rising population. Government policies are generally an easier way to boost income per capita, as governments can enact various policies. Others may include boosting the hours worked by employees, government investment, and more training or education for workers.
An easier way to increase income per capita is to increase the aggregate number of hours worked. That is, more employees going from part-time to full-time means more income per person. This also goes hand-in-hand with lowering unemployment; more employed people will raise the income per capita.
Investing in technology can help make processes more efficient and boost income potential. More specifically, the allocation of resources in a more effective way can boost income per capita. Government spending, such as on infrastructure and defense, will also boost incomes. As mentioned above, government policies, such as tax programs and subsidies can also boost income per capita.
Better, or more educated, workers can boost incomes. Workers able to do more complex tasks boosts overall incomes. These workers can also implement more productive ways of doing tasks, which can reduce needed hours worked or allow employees to work on more complicated tasks for higher pay.