BEST OVERALL: FINLAND Despite the long winter, Finland is a pretty great place to be—the best, actually. It ranked the highest overall and also comes in as the best small country, the best high-income country, and the best country for education. Its students scored first in science and second in both reading and math in the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, a test of 15-year- olds education skills by the OECD. Finlands schoolkids enjoy a laid-back and inclusive learning environment where shoes are optional, all teachers have masters degrees, and extra help is the norm: every year about one in three students gets individual time with a tutor.
BEST LARGE NATION: JAPANThe innovative country that broughtthe world sushi, Nintendo, and theKyoto Protocol is also the one withthe most healthy citizens. Theaverage person in Japan lives to theage of 82; the average woman livesto be nearly 86. (Japanese womenare the longest-living women in theworld.) What explains theirlongevity? No one knows for sure,but its likely a combination ofpreventive medicine, diet, healtheducation, high standard of livingduring old age, and universal healthcare. Japan also ranks first amonglarge countries in education andfourth in quality of life.
BEST EDUCATIONLow income: UkraineMiddle income: KazakhstanMedium size: South KoreaLarge size: JapanAmong low-income countries, Ukraine is the best foreducation, with a 99 percent literacy rate. When it comes tomath and science, Kazakh students are earning highmarks, too, and not just among middle-income countries;they outperformed the US and many others in math on the2007 TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics andScience Study). South Koreans are also among thehighest-performing students in science, and theyre thehighest in reading among the worlds wealthy countries. Itseems their educational success continues into adulthood,making South Koreans the most likely to have universitydegrees out of those in developed countries. Despitespending only about 3.5 percent of its GDP on education(the U.S. spends a little more than 5 percent), Japan stillranks best in education among large countries.Nonetheless, its top spot is at risk; after being criticized forits harsh academic atmosphere, Japan turned to a morerelaxed curriculum, only to see its students performanceslip in the past few years.
BEST HEALTH CARELow income: Tunisia, ChinaMiddle income: ChileSmall size: SwitzerlandMedium size: Spain, AustraliaThough you cant count on Tunisia foreducation, its tied with China for the No. 1spot on the health index among poorcountries. Chile, which performs fairly wellacross the board, ranks No. 1 for healthamong middle-income countries, andSwitzerland is the winner among smallcountries, beating out Sweden and theNetherlands. Spain and Australia sharebeautiful beaches and weather but also thetitle of healthiest medium-size countries.
BEST QUALITY OF LIFE Low income: Ukraine Middle income: Cuba Medium size: Australia Large size: Germany Germany has the highest quality of life among large countries and ranks in the top 10 for quality of life among wealthy states. Two of its cities—Munich and Berlin—are often ranked among the most livable in the world. Australia, with its active citizens and high standard of living, comes in first among medium-size countries. In the low-income category, Ukraine comes out on top, and Cuba outdoes its fellow middle-income countries in quality of life. Cuba also ranks No. 3 in education among upper-middle-class countries.
BEST POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT Low income: Ghana Middle income: Poland Medium size: Australia Large size: Germany Though Ghana (pictured) may not have a stellar economy, its political environment is the best among low-income countries like India, Albania, and Morocco. Poland wins in the middle-income category. Australia is a winner on many fronts, including its democratic freedom and voter participation, making it No. 1 in this category among medium-size nations. And Germany tops the list for large countries with the best political environment.
And now for the fun stuff...The World’s Real Winners!
BEST PLACE TO FLY A KITE INDIA Flying a kite from theroof is part of everyday life in India. But each year, on Jan. 14, an international kite festival, MakarSankranti, draws more than 1 million enthusiasts from 36 countries.
BEST WEATHER MALTA It rarely rains between April and August in Malta, and the long, dry summers are matched by short, mild winters. Winds from northern Africa known as xlokk keep the place temperate in spring and fall.
BEST PLACE TO BESURGICALLY ENHANCED BRAZIL No other country has so many plastic surgeons per capita; the $15 billion industry draws almost as many tourists as the beaches. Innovation-friendly regulations give Brazilian surgeons a leg up.
BEST PLACE TO HAVE A BABY FRANCE Maman is sitting pretty, with as much as seven months’ paid leave, low-cost health care, and a baby nurse who makes house calls. If she’s sick, the government sends someone to do the family’s laundry.
BEST PLACE TO BE OLD JAPAN Japan’s elders (who make up a fifth of the population) don’t just enjoy generous pensions, the respect of society, and the world’slongest life expectancy. They also get their own national holiday, Keirō No Hi.
BEST PLACE FOR A ROAD TRIP SOUTH AFRICA The 850-mile drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town features big-game terrain, pristine beaches, and towering cliffs. Be sure to stop and check out the ancient Bushman paintings at the Kamberg center.
BEST MUSIC MALIItinerant entertainers known as jeli have been showing upin Bamako for 500 years. Today, Mali is West Africa’smusical hotbed, and the annual Festival Au Desert attractsthe world’s best folk musicians.
MOST GAY-FRIENDLY THE NETHERLANDS The Dutch don’t talk much about gay rights. Why bother? Same-sex couples won equalrights in 2001. And Amsterdam’s annual gay- pride festival is still considered the hottest party on the planet.
BEST PLACE TO BE A DOG OWNER BELGIUM Dogs are more than man’s best friend here—they’re truly part of the family. They’re allowed in grocery stores, restaurants, sporting events, and music festivals. You can even bring Rex on the train.
BEST PLACE TO DINE SPAIN Sure, the paella is fabulous, but it’s anomalies like foie- gras candy and ham “tapioca,” created by molecular gastronomists like Ferrán Adrià, (of Catalonia’s elBulli) that make Spain the foodie’s mecca.
BE PLACE TO BE A RAPPER SWITZERLAND Swiss rappers rhyme in dialect and care more about lokalpatriotismus (local pride) than world domination. Theyget radio play and sold-out shows without needing body guards or bulletproof vests.