Why You Should Move to Australia, Canada, or Austria

Ask people to name some of the best places to live in the world, and you might hear answers like New York, Paris, San Francisco, London or Tokyo. But those cities don’t make it into the world’s top ten most livable cities, as ranked by The Economist‘s Most Livable Cities study—and the HR departments of companies with global workforces are taking notice.


For its latest study, the Economist Intelligence Unit evaluated 140 cities around the world on over 30 quantitative and qualitative factors covering categories such as stability, health care, culture and environment, educational resources and infrastructure. It ranked the cities on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the highest.

And according to this year’s list, Melbourne, Australia, is the world’s most livable city, with a score of 97.5. It’s followed by Vienna, Austria (97.4); Vancouver, Canada (97.3); Toronto, Canada (97.2); Calgary, Canada (96.6); Adelaide, Australia (96.6); Sydney, Australia (96.1); Helsinki, Finland (96.0); Perth, Australia (95.9); and Auckland, New Zealand (95.7). The average global livability score is 75.33.

Notice anything? Most obvious is that Australia is clearly a good place to live, as is Canada — together they make up 70% of the top 10 list.

The top 10 cities are mid-sized, in wealthier countries and have relatively low population densities. For example, Australia and Canada have just 2.88 and 3.40 people per square kilometer, respectively, the study said. In the United States, the average is 32; it’s 45.65 globally.

That could explain why places like New York, Paris, San Francisco, London, or Tokyo couldn’t crack the top 10.

“Global business centers tend to be victims of their own success. The ‘big city buzz’ that they enjoy can overstretch infrastructure and cause higher crime rates,” the study said. “New York, London, Paris and Tokyo are all prestigious hubs with a wealth of recreational activity, but all suffer from higher levels of crime, congestion and public transport problems than would be deemed comfortable. The question is how much wages, the cost of living and personal taste for a location can offset livability factors.”

Those cities maybe shouldn’t take any of that personally, because the report also said city life in general has become less…well, livable.

“Over the past five years urban life has deteriorated somewhat: livability has declined in 51 places and improved in 31 places. During that time, the index average has dropped 0.7 percentage points (skewed by cities in conflict areas where survival, rather than living well, is the priority),” The Economist reported.

And here’s why human resources departments care about the Livability rankings: companies often pay a premium (typically a percentage of salary) to employees who move to cities with tough living conditions, the study said. Send an employee to a city scoring 50 or lower (Lagos, Nigeria, for example) and you’re looking at a suggested 20% increase. Cities that score 80 or higher on the index typically don’t warrant a premium, the study said.

That does draw some added interest regarding which cities are at the bottom. This year, the five lowest-scorers include Karachi, Pakistan (40.9); Lagos, Nigeria (38.9); Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (38.9); Dhaka, Bangladesh (38.7); and Damascus, Syria (30.5). Military conflict is the largest factor in many of those low scores, because it ripples through a city’s infrastructure, health care sector, recreational activities and its availability of goods and services, according to the study.

And what about New York, Paris, San Francisco, London and Tokyo? Well, songwriters may love those cities, but The Economist’s statisticians, not so much.

Paris came in at #17; Tokyo makes an appearance at #19. But no American city appears until #27: Honolulu. Next is Pittsburgh, coming in at #30. Then there are several: Washington, D.C. at #35, followed by Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, in that order. Cleveland and Houston also make the top 50 at #45 and #47, respectively.

But there is no London, no New York, and no San Francisco.

What Aristotle said may be true after all: “A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.”