The Nordics and the US

Back in May 2015, I wrote a post comparing Scandinavia and the US.  Since then, that post has been viewed over 10,000 times, making it the most-read on this site; however, I feel it is time to update it.  A lot has changed since then- the Paris Agreement was signed, the Sustainable Development Goals went into effect, and Donald Trump became President of the United States.

I also want to enlarge the geographical comparison from Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) to the Nordics (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.)  I’ve kept many of the original indicators and have added some as well.

Nordic Flags

UN Human Development Index (Rank out of 187 countries; 2019)
a) Denmark: 11; b) Finland: 12; c) Iceland: 6; d) Norway: 1; e) Sweden: 8; f) USA: 15

Life Expectancy at Birth, Years (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 80.8; b) Finland: 81.7; c) Iceland: 82.9; d) Norway: 82.3; e) Sweden: 82.7; f) USA: 78.9

Government Expenditure on Education, % of GDP (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 7.6; b) Finland: 7.1; c) Iceland: 7.7; d) Norway: 7.6; e) Sweden: 7.6; f) USA: 5.0

Mean Years of Schooling, Years (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 12.6; b) Finland: 12.4; c) Iceland: 12.5; d) Norway: 12.6; e) Sweden: 12.4; f) USA: 13.4

GDP per capita (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: $47,673; b) Finland: $41,899; c) Iceland: $48,606; d) Norway: $65,441; e) Sweden: $47,194; f) USA: $55,681

Income Inequality, Gini Coefficient (100 = Complete Inequality; 2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 28.2; b) Finland: 27.1; c) Iceland: 27.8; d) Norway: 27.5; e) Sweden: 29.2; f) USA: 41.5

Total Unemployment, % of labor force (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 5.0%; b) Finland: 7.8%; c) Iceland: 2.9%; d) Norway: 3.9%; e) Sweden: 6.4%; f) USA: 3.9%

Carbon Dioxide Emissions per capita, Tonnes (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 5.9; b) Finland: 8.3; c) Iceland: 6.2; d) Norway: 6.8; e) Sweden: 3.9; f) USA: 15.0

Individual Income Tax Rates, (2019)
a) Denmark: 55.89%; b) Finland: 53.75%; c) Iceland: 46.24%; d) Norway: 38.2%; e) Sweden: 57.19%; f) USA: 37.0%

Public Spending on Family Benefits, % of GDP (2015 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 3.44%; b) Finland: 3.11%; c) Iceland: 3.40%; d) Norway: 3.38%; e) Sweden: 3.54%; f) USA: 1.12%

Total Paid Leave Available to Mothers, Weeks (2018)
a) Denmark: 50; b) Finland: 161; c) Iceland: 26; d) Norway: 91; e) Sweden: 55.7; f) USA: 0

Total Paid Leave Reserved for Fathers, Weeks (2018)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 9; c) Iceland: 13; d) Norway: 10; e) Sweden: 14.3; f) USA: 0

Public Spending on Childcare and Early Education, % of GDP (2015 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 1.2%; b) Finland: 1.1%; c) Iceland: 1.8%; d) Norway: 1.3%; e) Sweden: 1.6%; f) USA: .3%

Child Relative Income Poverty Rate (2016 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 3.7%; b) Finland: 3.3%; c) Iceland: 5.8%; d) Norway: 7.7%; e) Sweden: 8.9%; f) USA: 20.9%

Out-of-pocket Childcare Costs for a Two-Earner Couple Family, % of family net income (2015)
a) Denmark: 9.1%; b) Finland: 17.9%; c) Iceland: 4.5%; d) Norway: 5.3%; e) Sweden: 3.9%; f) USA: 22.5%

Best Countries to Raise Kids (rank out of 73 countries, 2020)
a) Denmark: 1; b) Finland: 6; c) Iceland: No data; d) Norway: 3; e) Sweden: 2; f) USA: 18

Environmental Performance Index (rank out of 180 countries; 2018)
a) Denmark: 3; b) Finland: 10; c) Iceland: 11; d) Norway: 14; e) Sweden: 5; f) USA: 27

Gender Inequality Index (rank out of 189 countries; 2018)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 7; c) Iceland: 9; d) Norway: 5; e) Sweden: 2; f) USA: 42

Gender Gap Index (rank out of 149 countries, 2018)
a) Denmark: 13; b) Finland: 4; c) Iceland: 1; d) Norway: 2; e) Sweden: 3; f) USA: 50

Women in Lower or Single House, (% / rank out of 192 countries, as of last elections)
a) Denmark: 39.11% / 23; b) Finland: 47% / 8; c) Iceland: 38.1% / 27; d) Norway: 40.83% / 17; e) Sweden: 47.28% / 7; f) USA: 23.61% / 75

Corruption Perceptions Index (rank out of 180 countries, 2018)
a) Denmark: 1; b) Finland: 3; c) Iceland: 14; d) Norway: 7; e) Sweden: 3; f) USA: 22

Freedom in the World, (100 = highest score, 2019)
a) Denmark: 97; b) Finland: 100; c) Iceland: 94; d) Norway: 100; e) Sweden: 100; f) USA: 86

Official Development Assistance, % of GNI (2018)
a) Denmark: .72%; b) Finland: .36%; c) Iceland: .31%; d) Norway: .94%; e) Sweden: 1.04%; f) USA: .17%

Military Expenditure, % of GDP (2018)
a) Denmark: 1.2%; b) Finland: 1.4%; c) Iceland: No Data; d) Norway: 1.6%; e) Sweden: 1.0%; f) USA: 3.2%

Good Country Index (rank out of 153 countries, latest available)
a) Denmark: 6; b) Finland: 1; c) Iceland: 36; d) Norway: 8; e) Sweden: 4; f) USA: 40

Overall Happiness (rank out of 156 countries, 2019)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 1; c) Iceland: 4; d) Norway: 3; e) Sweden: 7; f) USA: 19

Life Satisfaction (10 = highest score, latest available)
a) Denmark: 9.7; b) Finland: 10; c) Iceland: 9.5; d) Norway: 9.9; e) Sweden: 8.9; f) USA: 7.4


As I mentioned in the 2015 post, “the list of indicators is not exhaustive and does not give a complete picture of life in these countries.”  That said, these do give us a good idea of a government’s priorities and the extent to which a government uses its wealth to take care of its people and the world.  Don’t get me wrong, people living in the US have a pretty good standard of living; however, given its wealth, the American government should do a much better job of providing for the general welfare, protecting the environment, and helping others.  In this sense, I think we can look to the Nordics for examples of how we can improve.

To learn more about the five Nordic countries, start by visiting their embassy websites:

To learn more about the Nordics as a whole, check out Nordic Co-operation.

Thanks for reading.

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