Australia’s Standard Of Living: The Aussie Advantage

Compared to Americans, Australians work less, earn more, own multiple homes, surf, and travel abroad regularly.  Australia is not the Lucky Country.  It’s the We’ve-Got-It-Made Country.”  Doug Knell, Doug’s Republic

When Australian writer Donald Horne wrote The Lucky Country in 1964, he was not complimenting his native land.  He meant it ironically.  Horne wrote that “Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.”  More clever nations created wealth using innovation, technology, brains.  Australia’s economic wealth came from whatever valuable minerals it dug out of its soils and mines.

I marveled when I was in Australia how Australians didn’t seem to work as hard as the people back home in America, yet they all seemed to own at least one home, were likely renting out another, had done ample world travel, were sampling fine wines, and may have only graduated high school.  How do the Australians pull this off?

The Apparent Wealth Of Australia

Let’s do a comparison of Australia with the United States, the country they’re always comparing themselves to, to see how Australia measures up.

GDP per capita, adjusted for purchasing power parity (USD) 37,299 46,859
Number of millionaires 129,200 9.2m
Number of millionaires if Australia had US population 1.8m 9.2m
Number of billionaires 9 359
Number of billionaires if Australia had US population 126 359
Number of weeks annual leave 4-6 2-3
% of citizens with tertiary education 30.8% 38.1%
% of citizens with secondary education 30.2% 49.2%
UN Human Development Index ranking (education, life expectancy, standard of living) 3 8

A quick glance shows Australians as less wealthy than Americans.  The Australian government admits their people are less productive than Americans in a well-researched paper found here.

There are about 3 times as many billionaires and 5 times as many millionaires in the United States as there are in Australia if you normalize Australia’s population to be on par with the United States.


The Australians get twice as much annual leave (and a 17.5% bonus on top of their salary when they take it) but are also, overall, less educated.  None of that stops the country from outscoring the United States on a UN Human Development Index in 2004.

I don’t have much respect for the UN, but I don’t disagree with their ranking of Australia above the U.S.  The Australians do enjoy a higher standard of living than the Americans.   Yet how can this be, if the Australians are apparently USD 9,500 poorer per person?

If you don’t adjust the GDP per capita figures for cost of living in each nation, Australia’s GDP per capita is USD 47,400, over USD 500 higher than the United States.  Nominally, the Australians are richer than the Americans per person.  Only once the higher cost of living in Australia is factored in do the Australians rank lower.

But GDP per capita is a very misleading indicator anyway.  It divides a country’s total domestic output by the total number of citizens, yet we all know that each citizen does not provide an equal amount to a nation’s output.  Each millionaire and billionaire generates far more to a nation’s output than the GDP per capita figure.

Because the U.S. has a greater percentage of millionaires and billionaires than Australia, and these ultra rich as a group possess much greater wealth in the United States (the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans is about double Australia’s annual GDP, and the richest Australian would only rank as #131 on the American rich list), this billionaire/millionaire contribution to national output is a larger chunk in the United States than it is in Australia.

If we were somehow able to subtract out the millionaire/billionaire contribution in each country and divide by the total number of its non-millionaire/billionaire citizens, we’d arrive at a fictitious figure we’ll call the GDPAC, the gross domestic product per average citizen.

Live in Melbourne

This figure would be a more accurate measure of how well off the average person is in each country. The GDPAC for Australia would outrank by a large margin the GDPAC for the US.

This it not an academic exercise.  The average Australian is better off.  The minimum wage is 50% higher in Australia. University educations are cheaper. Vacations are longer.  A universal healthcare regime is in place.  Australians don’t watch their taxes funneled abroad to fund costly military ventures which yield no perceived benefit for the run-of-the-mill citizen.

Australian public debt is only about 25% of GDP; America’s is near 100%.   No doubt about it.  The harder-working Americans are poorer and constantly getting even poorer.  A highly educated professional and a tycoon will make a lot more money in the United States, but most citizens of any country do not fall into this exclusive elite category.

That’s why they’re called average citizens.  Australia caters to the average a helluva lot better than the U.S. Call Australia the Lucky Country, the Lazy Country, the whatever country. It doesn’t matter. The Australians are surfing their way to an envious lifestyle as the Americans get taxed and raped into the poorhouse.

The United States is known as the land of big business. Whenever I ask someone to name, off the top of their head, 10 world-renowned American companies, they can do so. When I then ask if they can name five well-known Australian companies, they struggle beyond Qantas.

They could better name five famous Australian actors or actresses than they could five major Australian companies. Despite the United States being behind many of the world’s most recognized businesses (Disney, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, GE) and the huge revenues these corporations garner, this does not translate into average Americans having a higher standard of living than average Australians.

Final Words:

The comparison between Australia and the United States paints a vivid picture of two nations with contrasting economic landscapes.

While the U.S. boasts a plethora of globally recognized corporations and a higher concentration of ultra-rich individuals, it’s the average Australian who seems to enjoy a more comfortable and balanced lifestyle.

The essence of a nation’s prosperity isn’t just in its GDP or the number of billionaires it houses, but in the quality of life it offers to its average citizen.

Australia, with its emphasis on work-life balance, affordable education, and healthcare, showcases that a nation’s true wealth is measured by the well-being of its people.

Whether it’s the allure of the surf, the vast open spaces, or the laid-back lifestyle, Australia has carved a niche for itself as a place where the ‘average’ thrives.

As the world continues to evolve, it’s essential to remember that the heart of a nation lies in the happiness and well-being of its people, and not just in its economic indicators.