Ireland ranked second in the world for quality of life, beating Sweden, Germany and UK

Ireland now in the ‘very high’ camp, ranked joint second with Switzerland and behind only Norway in the ranking

“The Irish economy has almost doubled since 1990, but the biggest driver was actually education. That was the indicator that made relatively more progress since 1990.” Photograph: Gerry Images

“The Irish economy has almost doubled since 1990, but the biggest driver was actually education. That was the indicator that made relatively more progress since 1990.” Photograph: Gerry Images

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Ireland is second only to Norway on a United Nations annual ranking of 189 countries measured according to average longevity, education and income.

The measure puts Ireland ahead of countries including Germany (6), Sweden (7), Australia (8), and the UK (13), and is a stark improvement compared with when the country was assessed when the index was first drawn up in 1990.

That year Ireland was outranked by Spain, Belgium, Italy, New Zealand, Germany, Finland, the UK, Denmark, France, Australia, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and Japan in the Human Development Report.

Now Ireland is in the “very high” camp, ranked joint second with Switzerland and behind only Norway in the ranking.

Overall Ireland’s Human Development score has increased 23.5 per cent since 1990, a much faster rate of improvement than comparable countries, according to the measure.

Pedro Conceição, the lead author of the report, said Ireland’s improved ranking was due above all to advances in education.

“The Irish economy has almost doubled since 1990, but the biggest driver was actually education. That was the indicator that made relatively more progress since 1990,” Mr Conceição said.

Average life expectancy at birth was 74.8 in Ireland in 1990 and has risen to 82.3, while average years of schooling were 9.7 and are now 12.7.

When the index was introduced 30 years ago it was designed to capture a more well-rounded picture of development than simply measuring for economic growth, as was the norm at the time.

Similar profile

In 1990, Ireland had a similar profile to countries such as Italy and Slovenia. But a comparison of the countries’ fates over the last three decades shows the countries have diverged, with Slovenia now at 22 and Italy 29.

“I think what explains faster improvement in the case of Ireland is the economy – certainly the Italian economy and Slovenian economy didn’t grow as quickly as the Irish economy – but improvements in education were much faster in the case of Ireland,” Mr Conceição said.

When adjusted for inequality within the country, Ireland drops three places in the index to be overtaken by Iceland and Finland. However, the level of inequality in Ireland is lower than the average among comparable countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) .