Countries often use these 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.
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 less 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 compared 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 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as of 2017. Disposable income per capita is specifically the household net-adjusted disposable income per capita according to the OECD.
The small country of Luxembourg, with a population of just around 600,000, has $44,446 in money per capita, putting it as the top 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 $62.4 billion as of 2017. For context, consider the U.S. GDP, which comes in at 310 times Luxembourg’s GDP at $19.4 trillion. Much of Luxembourg’s economic success has been derived from banking, where the country has grown into a global financial center.
Australia's household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is $39,936. Australia has a GDP of $1.32 trillion and a population of almost 24.6 million people. The country is rich with natural resources, which is reflected in one of the primary engines of its economy—mining.
Germany commands $38,996 in money per capita. Germany is home to 82.8 million people and is a major exporter, notably of cars, being home to major car brands such as Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW. As well, Germany is also a major exporter of chemicals, having a GDP of $3.7 trillion.
Norway has $37,635 in money per capita. With a population of 5.3 million people and a GDP of $399 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 around $1 trillion and is funded largely by the country's oil industry.
The European country of Austria has $36,166 in money per capita. The country has 8.77 million people and a $416.6 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.
France, with its 67.2 million people, has a money per capita measure of $34,041. The country’s GDP comes in at $2.58 trillion—the second-largest GDP on our list next to Germany. Chemicals is a key industry for the country, as is tourism. France was the most visited country in the world in 2017, per the World Tourism Organization.
Belgium, another European country, makes the top 10 list of countries based on money per capital with $33,946. Belgium has a population of 11.35 million and a GDP of $492.7 billion. Given its location, Belgium’s economic strong suit is exporting, notably vehicles and chemicals.
The Netherlands has money per capita of $33,578 and GDP of $826.2 billion. Its population is 17.1 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.
With money per capita of $33,378, Sweden has a GDP of $538 billion. It’s had success over the years thanks to the fact that it remained neutral during World War II—not having to rebuild its economy in the aftermath. Hydropower, iron ore and timber are key exports for the country.
Sweden's neighbor to the south is Denmark, with a $33,335 money per capita. Changes in government policy related to taxes, which reduced interest payment tax deductions, as well as focus on pensions, has boosted the savings rate in the country drastically. The country has a GDP of $324.9 billion and a population of 5.75 million.
What Drives Higher Average Incomes?
Disposable income, again, is different from discretionary income. Disposable income refers to the money after taxes. Thus, changing spending habits can not impact disposable income. Instead, higher wages is one of the keys to boosting disposable income.
The key aspects of generating a higher disposable income per capita include in a few factors. That is, 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, such as the case with Denmark above. Others may include boosting 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 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 people can also bring more productive ways of doing tasks, which can reduce needed hours worked or allow employees to work on more complicated tasks for higher pay.