Sunday, January 10, 2016

Why are some Countries Better than Others? A Look at Size, Income, Crime and Longevity_Part One

Today I start publishing a somewhat academic yet hopefully interesting article. Due to its length, I must split it into four segments.

This article attempts to show that country SIZE (population) , as an independent variable, can predict quality of life. That is, smaller countries enjoy a better quality of life than larger countries. The dependent variable - quality of life - is operationalized through three indicators: per capita GDP, the murder rate, and life expectancy. It is shown that smaller countries indeed enjoy higher per capita income, lower murder rates, and longer life expectancy. Correlations between the three dependent variables are also examined: As expected, the relationship between per capita GDP and life expectancy is positive, and the relationship between the murder rate and life expectancy is negative. However, the relationship between per capita GDP and the murder rate turned out to be POSITIVE, which came as a surprise. 

This study is largely descriptive, not explanatory. While I offer a few explanations, my aim is not to provide a detailed causal analysis. The relationships I examine are quite possibly spurious. They are certainly part of a much more complex set of variables, including political, cultural and geographical factors. However, these data offer a global view of how four major variables interact.


Every time I travel, I am struck by the differences in the QUALITY OF LIFE and THE STANDARD OF LIVING of various countries. People live healthier, longer, happier, more crime-free and more affluent lives in some countries than others. What accounts for these differences is probably the single most complicated and important political question for humanity.

The obvious - and of course largely true - cliché is that it all boils down to economics. People who live in better-off countries are happier and healthier than those who live in poor countries. The contrast between the West and the Third World is clear.

However, whenever I travel, I am struck by the many exceptions to this simplistic generalization. It begins with the United States and Europe. Many Western European countries enjoy, I am afraid, better quality of life than does America. And then, when you travel WITHIN Europe it seems that life is better, for example, in countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, the rest of the Benelux, Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries, than it is in France, Britain, Italy and Spain, among others.

One thing the US, France, Britain, Italy and Spain have in common: They are relatively LARGE (and America of course is HUGE). Their populations range from thirty-three million to three hundred and twenty million.

One thing Switzerland, the Benelux and the Scandinavian countries have in common: They are SMALL: Their populations range from ninety two thousand to less than seventeen million.

For years, I have carried the impressionistic hypothesis in my head, that - by and large - small countries generally work better than large countries. This was confirmed again this year, when I paid my first visit to Ireland, a country of four million people - fewer than the San Francisco Bay area. The people are friendly, happy and healthy; the country is spic and span and crime-free; I saw no homeless beggars in the streets of Dublin. A wonderful place (except the weather, perhaps). Thus, one variable which has intrigued me for a long time is simply countries’ SIZE. I finally decided to go beyond my anecdotal experience, and try to test my hypothesis with some actual numbers - are small countries “better” countries?

Of course, any worthwhile sociological research is multi-variate. Life is multi-variate. Were I to try to present the present article at a meeting of the American Sociological Association, I would be laughed out of the office. But that is not my intent. I just want to explore a simple idea, and inform as well as entertain the readers with some interesting facts.

I recently published an article, “Demography is Destiny: An Essay on the Primary Correlate of Violence.” (See International Journal on World Peace, June, 2015). In that article, I attempt to show that when comparing international rates of violence from country to country, age is a very strong correlate at the aggregate level of entire countries. I looked at just this ONE independent variable.

In the present article, my unit of analysis is once again the COUNTRY, not the individual, and my primary focus is on one independent variable again - country SIZE (population). For a ranking of the world’s countries, I used the following source: Countries of the World, Ranked by Population.

My dependent variable is “Quality of life,” here operationalized only through three factors:
(1) income, as a rough measure of standard of living,
(2) murder rate and
(3) life expectancy.

Obviously, the determinants and components of “quality of life” are innumerable and widely researched. However, my aim here is purely an exploratory effort to find out whether there is a relationship between countries’ size and their quality of life, as has been apparent to me whenever I travel around the world.

In other words, my working hypothesis is:

Smaller countries tend to provide their citizens with
(1) a higher standard of living, 
(2) greater safety from being murdered and 
(3) a longer life. 

I subdivide this hypothesis into six sub-hypotheses:
1. Smaller countries tend to be more affluent than larger countries.
2. Smaller countries have lower murder rates than larger countries.
3. Smaller countries enjoy a longer life expectancy than larger countries.
4. Richer countries have lower murder rates than poorer countries.
5. Richer countries enjoy longer life expectancy than poorer countries.
6. Countries with a high murder rate have a lower life expectancy than countries with a low murder rate.

Methodological Issues: Mean vs. Median and Individual vs. Household

(To be continued)

© Tom Kando 2015
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