The sixth annual Best Countries report reveals the importance of social justice as a global ambition, the unexpected societal byproduct of the COVID-19 crisis and the influence of conspiracy theories.
For the first time, Canada takes the top spot overall in the 2021 Best Countries Report, a ranking and analysis project by U.S. News & World Report; BAV Group, a unit of global marketing communications company VMLY&R; and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
This year, the model that powers this report has evolved in response to a transformational year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cultural, economic, political and technological influences remain important, and two new categories have been added: social purpose and agility. Together, this broad range of categories determines how the 78 countries studied are ranked on the world stage.
“Nations are impacted on many critical fronts by how they are perceived globally – from foreign relations to international business to tourism. These perceptions are ever-evolving in a rapidly changing world,” said Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer at U.S. News. “The 2021 Best Countries analysis combines data and storytelling to explore how countries compare on a host of global issues.”
Key themes from the 2021 Best Countries Report
- For the first time, Canada is the No. 1 overall country. Japan and Germany finish Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, while Switzerland, the previous No. 1 overall country, falls to No. 4. Australia remains as the No. 5 overall country followed by the United States, which rises one position to No. 6 overall.
- Canada ranks No. 1 in quality of life and social purpose. It is also perceived as having a good job market, caring about human rights and is committed to social justice. Additionally, the country finished No. 1 in being viewed as not corrupt and respecting property rights.
- Social justice is a global ambition. Eighty percent of global citizens feel aligned with social justice, a broad term that refers to movements calling for addressing racial and gender inequities, while 76% also agree that a country is stronger when it is more racially and ethnically diverse. Canada and the Nordic countries are viewed as the most committed to social justice, while the U.S. sits at No. 18. And on the specific topic of racial equality, the U.S. only manages to achieve No. 69, behind both China and Iraq.
- Women are viewed as effective leaders. Eighty-three percent of global citizens believe there is a leadership crisis in the world today. The majority of respondents view women leaders in a positive light, as 68% agree that countries led by women tend to be better managed.
- A nation’s perceived agility is the most important driver of strength in 2021. Across the countries measured, agility accounts for per capita GDP variations the most – underscoring that it is essential for any country to be seen as adaptable, progressive and responsive. The new Agility subranking carries the greatest weight among the 10 subrankings. The U.S. leads the world in perceived agility, but is not among the top 10 in adaptability, coming in at No. 13 on this attribute.
- The influence of conspiracy theories. A majority of respondents (75%) agree that conspiracy theories are a threat to society. However, 39% believe that governments have made up the COVID-19 pandemic to control their citizens.
“This year the model behind the Best Countries report has been updated and evolved in response to 2020, a year like no other,” said John Keaveney, WPP advisor and head of Analytics & Insight, BAV Group. “From the death of George Floyd and the subsequent rise of the social justice movement, to the need for quick and decisive action by our governments and scientists to tackle the threat from COVID-19, all such seismic events now play a role in the way citizens rate a nation and its society as a whole. By combining more traditional measures of a nation’s power and influence with our new dimensions of Social Purpose and Agility, we are now able to more accurately measure the strength and perceptual equity of any country in 2021.”
In addition to the overall rankings, the report also includes:
- 25 subrankings and “Best for” Lists
- The third annual Origin Index, in which respondents were asked to pick the countries they would prefer to buy goods from as a measure of each country’s brand power.
- Articles examining GENDER INEQUALITY, a closer examination of CANADA’S VACCINE ROLLOUT and treatment hesitancy among the country’s First Nations communities, HOW WELL THE WORLD IS RECOVERING ECONOMICALLY and the impact the Jan. 6 ASSAULT ON THE U.S. CAPITOL has had on views about the United States.
The 2021 Best Countries rankings METHODOLOGY gathered from a proprietary survey of more than 17,000 business leaders; college educated individuals that are middle class or higher; and general citizens who are nationally representative of their country. “Countries should care about their image – it is not just a beauty contest. The impressions others have of a country affects its economy through tourism, foreign trade and foreign direct investment,” said David Reibstein, professor of marketing at the Wharton School.
The BEST COUNTRIES project includes in-depth news articles, an interactive data explorer, photos and commentary from global experts in government, business and academia. It is part of U.S. News’ Government Rankings initiative, which measures government performance at the international, state and local levels and includes the BEST STATES and HEALTHIEST COMMUNITIES projects.