Savings constitute the difference between an individual's income and spending. Gross national savings include not just residents’ household savings but those of a nation’s businesses and government. A country's national savings rate is represented as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP). Countries with the highest savings rates fit into four income levels, including high income, upper-middle-income, lower-middle-income, and low income. Factors that drive each country’s economy are as varied as the countries themselves.
- A country's savings rate is the amount of money that individuals earn but do not spend.
- Gross national savings include residents’ household savings as well as those of a nation’s businesses and government.
- While too low of a savings rate can be a sign of trouble, too high of a savings rate can also indicate low economic growth or activity since money that could be spent on consumption or investment is instead left idle.
- Countries with the highest savings rates tend to also have lower-than-average GDP per capita.
The island nation of Singapore in Southeast Asia rose from No. 8 to No. 1 between 2007 and 2017, despite a decline in Singapore’s national savings rate from 50% to 48% during that same period. Singapore’s current GDP of $323.907 billion, including average GDP growth of 7.7% since independence, places it at the high-income level among world economies. Singapore’s gross national income (GNI), which measures annual income divided by the midyear population (in U.S. dollars), is an impressive $54,530. Much credit goes to the country’s rapid industrialization in the 1960s when manufacturing drove growth and Singapore—along with Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan—achieved full employment. While manufacturing, including electronics, petroleum products, and medical devices, remains an important part of Singapore’s economy, it has been joined by a robust services sector—in transport and storage, in particular—as well as a world-respected financial services industry.
The Caribbean nation of Suriname, the smallest country in South America, rose from No. 5 in 2007 to No. 2 in 2017. Like Singapore's, Suriname’s national savings rate also fell during the previous decade, in this case from 56% to 48%. Suriname’s GDP of $3.3 billion pales compared to that of Singapore and other rich nations, but as an upper-middle-income economy, the country has held steady. This is impressive given the drop in world oil and commodity prices since 2014. Natural resources and agricultural exports have driven Suriname's economy, with bauxite, gold, and oil historically accounting for 30% of GDP and up to 90% of total exports. Between 2001 and 2013, Suriname’s economy grew by 4.7% per year, on average, and produced a GNI of $10,933 in 2014. Recent investments in oil and gold have helped halt the GDP contraction in 2017 and are expected to fuel a modest expansion moving forward.
China, with average GDP growth of 10% per year, is one of the largest economies in the world. Its GDP of $12.238 trillion and savings rate of 47% in 2017 rank this Asian behemoth No. 3 among the 170 countries monitored by the World Bank. In 2007, China ranked No. 7 and had a national savings rate of 51%. China’s GDP growth has slowed some since 2012 but remains one of the most impressive in the world. Despite all this, China remains a developing country at the upper-middle income level with a 2017 GNI of just $8,690 per capita. Based on China’s current poverty standard, about 55 million poor lived in rural areas in 2015. China’s current Five-Year Plan (2016–2020) sets targets to reduce pollution, increase energy efficiency and improve access to education and healthcare while aiming for GDP growth of 6.5%. China is a world leader in agricultural and industrial output, mining and ore processing, and consumer products, with a labor force of roughly 806 million and an unemployment rate of just 3.9% in 2017.
Nepal, a low-income economy in South Asia, went from a savings rate of 31% and a ranking of No. 38 to a savings rate of 44% and the No. 4 spot on the current list. Nepal’s recent annual GDP growth of 6.3% has been driven mostly by investments, leading to a national GDP of $24.472 billion in 2017 and GNI of just $790 per capita. Post-earthquake housing construction has been a huge factor in GDP growth, with 707,443 families qualifying for housing grants. Private domestic investments increased by almost 16% recently and foreign direct investment (FDI) rose 32% this past year. On the supply side, service and industry have been the key drivers of growth, but agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy, providing a living for almost two-thirds of Nepal’s population.
In 2007, the Philippines, with a lower-middle-income economy, was ranked No. 15, with a national savings rate of 44%. In 2017, the savings rate remained the same and this dynamic economy rose all the way to No. 5 among countries with the best savings rates. With an average annual growth of 6.4% from 2010 to 2017, the Philippines enjoyed a GDP of $313.595 billion in 2017, resulting in a growing middle class and a GNI of $3,660 per capita. It is projected to grow to an upper-middle-income range of $3,896 to $12,055 over the next few years. Strong sectors include business process outsourcing (BPO), real estate, finance, and insurance. Although unemployment declined from 7.3% to 5.7% between 2010 and 2017, the disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor remains a problem. The current stable job market has helped moderate a decline in consumer spending due to rising inflation, and poverty declined from 26.6% of the population to 21.6% between 2006 and 2015.
The personal saving rate in the United States in 2018, compared to 10.4 percent in 1960.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to Mauritania, a lower-middle-income desert country that wasn’t even listed by the World Bank in 2007. By 2012, with a national savings rate of 35%, the country ranked No. 25. By 2017 it had grown to 38% and moved this nation, with a population of just 4.3 million, up to the No. 6 position. Only 0.5% of the land in Mauritania is considered arable, the probable reason for the country’s population density of only 3.9 people per square kilometer, which makes it the fourth least densely populated country in Africa. A prudent fiscal policy and recovery of global mineral prices have helped Mauritania’s GDP growth rise from 2% in 2016 to 3.5% in 2017. The country’s GDP in 2017 was $5.025 billion and GNI per capita was $1,100. The economy is supported by oil and mining, fisheries, livestock, agriculture, and services.
Ireland ranks No. 7 on this list in 2017, a far cry from its No. 72 spot in 2007. Current national savings in Ireland is 37% versus the 24% savings rate the country had in 2007. Historically, Ireland has been a largely agricultural society, but that began to change in 1973 when the country joined the European Union. Since then it has become a technologically advanced economy that relies on industry, wholesale and retail trade, transport, accommodation, and food service, and public administration to drive the economy. Ireland’s GDP in 2017 was $333.731 billion and its per-capita GNI was $55,290, making it one of the highest, even among high-income economies. About 25% of Ireland’s population of 4.8 million people live in the capital city of Dublin. Ireland’s low corporate tax rate of 12.5% and its many high-tech workers have made the country attractive to multinational corporations (MNCs) seeking to cut or avoid taxes.
8. Republic of Korea
The Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea, is No. 8 on the 2017 list, with a national savings rate of 36%. In 2007 Korea ranked No. 32 and had a national savings rate of 33%. Korea, a high-income East Asian economy, has shown remarkable progress over the years and currently has a $1.6 trillion GDP. Korea’s GDP growth averaged 10% annually between 1962 and 1994, fueled primarily by annual export growth of 20%. The country’s GNI per capita was $67 in the early 1950s and reached $28,380 in 2017. Currently, the Republic of Korea has the world’s fifteenth largest economy. Korea’s keys to financial success rely on the import of raw materials and export-oriented industries, especially those related to electronics, telecommunications, automobiles, chemicals, shipbuilding, and steel.
South Asia’s Bangladesh, with an economy that ranks as lower-middle-income, ranked No. 27 in 2007 with a national savings rate of 36%. In 2017, the country leaped to No. 9, despite a drop in the national savings rate to 35%. This is the result of Bangladesh making remarkable progress in reducing poverty and sustaining economic growth. In fact, based on the international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day, Bangladesh reduced poverty from 44.2% of the population in 1991 to just 14.8% by 2016. This growth helped the country move from low income to lower-middle-income status by 2015. Much remains to be done if the country hopes to reach upper-middle-income status by its 50th birthday in 2021. GDP for 2017 was $249.724 billion and GNI was $1,470 per capita based on a population of nearly 165 million people. The country’s economy has grown about 6% per year since 2005 thanks to the garment industry, which makes up 80% of total exports. Other industries include jute, cotton, paper, leather, fertilizer, iron and steel, cement, and petroleum products.
With a national savings rate of 34%, Switzerland, a high-income European economy, comes in at No. 10. In 2007 it was ranked No. 28 with a national savings rate of 35%. Despite being outside the European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland has a closer relationship with the E.U. than most countries: It is the E.U.’s fourth-largest trading partner and the E.U. is Switzerland’s largest trading partner. With a current GDP of $678.888 billion, Switzerland is one of the wealthiest of the high-income economies in Europe. It has a highly skilled labor force and a strong services sector, led by world-renowned financial services. Switzerland’s GNI is $80,560 per capita, one of the strongest in the world. Switzerland’s main industries are machinery, chemicals, watches, textiles, precision instruments, tourism, banking, insurance, and pharmaceuticals.
The Bottom Line
Half of the top 10 countries listed here have national savings rates above 40% of GDP, while the other half have rates of 34% to 38%. Other countries with a national savings rate in the 30% or a higher range of GDP include Sri Lanka, Norway, India, Indonesia, Macedonia, Netherlands, Kyrgyz Republic, and Sweden.