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Culture

Head to Norway for a Good Life

For those enjoying a cold drink in one of Germany's popular open-air beer-gardens, it may come as a surprise: The country came in only 17th in a recent U.N. report examining quality of life issues.

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Germans might be having a good time, but life is better elsewhere, U.N. researchers say.

For the second time in a row, Norway has confirmed its position as the "best country in the world to live in", according to this year's Human Development Index, which is published annually by the U.N. Development Programme.

The latest U.N. figures, presented simultaneously in New York and Manila earlier this week, show that Norwegians have a life expectancy of 78.5 years. And throughout their long life, they enjoy an average income of $29,918 (29,789 euros). In this category, however, the country lags behind the U.S., which has a median income of $34,142 and came in number six on the U.N.'s list.

Especially with a view to countries low on the list, however, the report also noted that per-capita income alone does translate into quality of life, measured by indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy rates and per capita income.

With an infant mortality of four per thousand live births, though, Norway is doing considerably better than the United States with seven per thousand.

Norwegians are clearly enjoying the praise, but they seem to be far from bathing in the accolades. Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Olav Kjoerven seemed satisfied with the country's performance. But he also joked that the outcome might have been different had the U.N. researchers taken Norway's fierce climate into account.

Germany 17th on the list

For those who are already at the top, it's easy to make fun of themselves. Germans, meanwhile, have to live with their mediocre performance. While the country has not performed particularly well in previous rankings, this year it even missed a seat at the table of those who hold the top fifteen positions, coming in only 17th.

Great Britain had already overtaken Germany in the early 1990s, and Luxembourg, which in 2000 was still an equal match, has now achieved a close victory over Germany. But Germany still ahead of Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel and Hong Kong.

According to the report, Germans on average die almost a year earlier than Norwegians (at 77.7 years) and have a per-capita income of around $25,103, almost $5,000 less than Norwegians and a third less than Americans.

There is only one category where Germany is doing better than the rest of the 173 nations that are part of the U.N. ranking. While even Norway is spending "only" 7 percent of its gross domestic product on its health sector, Germany is leading in this category with a contribution of 7.9 percent of its GDP.

However, that's about it with the good news for Germany from the United Nations headquarters.Towards the end of last year, the PISA-study (Program for International Student Assessment), an international school ranking by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, had exposed serious deficiencies the country's school system.

The issue has since become quite controversial and German politicians have been travelling to Scandinavian countries to be given some lessons from those who received top scores. But chances are that Scandinavian advice can be boiled down to one simple idea: "Spend more money on education."

Because that's where Scandinavians are clearly ahead. Germany spends only 4.8 percent of its GDP in this sector, compared to 7.7 in Norway and 8.1 percent in Denmark.

Dramatic progress -- with tragic exeptions

Although individual countries like Germany might not be thrilled with their ranking, all in all the world has made "dramatic progress" within the last 20 years. The "tragic exception" being Eastern and Central European countries as well as the former Soviet Union and Africa. Twenty-four African countries bring up the rear in the U.N.'s list, with Sierra Leone coming in as the last of 173.

With a view to developing countries, the U.N. researchers note that prospects are still bleak. "If global progress continues at such snail's pace, it will take more than 130 years to rid the world of hunger," they write in their report.

All in all, the report thus comes to a sobering conclusion, reminding its readers that, "economically, politically and technologically, the world has never seemed more free - or more unjust."

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