Statistics on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Correlations

Introduction

On this page, we’ll have a look at the level and the growth rate of countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – or, better, their GDP per capita in order to compare like with like and to correct for increases or decreases in GDP that are caused by changes in the population numbers (which in turn may be caused by migration, fertility rates etc.).

GDP gives important clues as to how well a country is doing. I say “clues”, because wellbeing and standard of living are only partially a matter of financial or monetary wealth – GDP is the inflation-adjusted market value of all goods and services produced within a country in a given period (or, alternatively, the value of the income generated in terms of profits and wages). Increased production of goods and services does benefit the wellbeing and standard of living of the average person in some ways: higher average incomes and increased consumption are often beneficial. But not always: GDP numbers do not answer essential questions such as whether we are consuming too much of the wrong things, whether we have better quality consumption, or whether we are saving too little. Furthermore, other elements of wellbeing not related to consumption and financial income are not measured by GDP: leisure time, longevity, social equality, quality of education, capabilities etc. In the words of Robert Kennedy:

The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

(There’s also this famous quote: if you put your clothes in a clothes dryer, the energy you spend is part of the measured economy. Hang them on the clothesline and they disappear from our economy).

And yet, many good things happening in or being experienced by people living in a certain country are actually strongly correlated with the level and/or growth rates of that country’s GDP per capita. Some of those good things are also directly or indirectly connected to human rights issues. For example, when a country’s level or growth rate of GDP increases, its average standard of living, the quality of education and the health of its population also increase. And standard of living, education and health are all human rights.

So, economic growth is indeed a wonderful thing because it’s correlated with many good outcomes. But growth will not automatically or inevitably bring about those outcomes. It takes the actions and hard work by a lot of people. If growth brings more income, people still have to decide to invest the money in education, redistribution, institution building etc. And then there’s the famous “correlation does not equal causation” warning. Sometimes, economic growth – combined with purposeful action by individuals – does bring about good things. Sometimes, it’s those good things that bring about economic growth. Sometimes it’s an invisible third factor that brings about both goods things and growth.

Still, given the strong correlations shown below, it’s probably a good thing to focus on GDP growth or economic growth in order to increase our chances of having some good things. While economic growth is certainly not sufficient for wellbeing, it may be a necessary prerequisite. Growth matters, because income and consumption matter, but also and primarily because growth is associated with other elements of wellbeing. Again, “associated” here can mean different things: other elements of wellbeing may follow more or less automatically from growth, may be statistically more likely to be present in high growth or high GDP countries, or may be realized because growth gives governments and people the financial means to realize them. As Amartya Sen has put it: while economic growth is important for enhancing living conditions, its reach and impact depend greatly on what we do with the increased income.

Below you’ll find – in no particular order – a series of GDP correlations, most of them interesting and useful I think; others more frivolous and humorous. However, before you start, it may be useful to read this word of caution about the correlation-causation problem. A correlation between GDP and something else may be an indication of GDP being the cause of that other thing, but the causal link may just as well going the other way. Or there may be a third, hidden factor causing both GDP and the other thing.

Content

1. GDP and corruption
2. GDP and poverty
3. GDP and the resource curse
4. GDP and economic freedom
5. GDP and rule of law
6. GDP and democracy
7. GDP and infant mortality rates
8. GDP and life expectancy
9. GDP and education
10. GDP and the environment
11. GDP and happiness
12. GDP and unemployment
13. GDP and land distribution
14. GDP and charity
15. GDP and individualism
16. GDP and inequality
17. GDP and election outcomes
18. GDP and civil war
19. GDP and belief in the theory of evolution
20. GDP and crime
21. GDP and world population
22. GDP and fertility rates
23. GDP and taxation
24. GDP and spending on Christmas gifts
25. GDP and casual sex
26. GDP and equality before the law
27. GDP and CO2 emissions
28. GDP and campaign spending
29. GDP and tax revenue
30. GDP and urbanization
31. GDP and military spending
32. GDP and government spending
33. GDP and innovation
34. GDP and religion
35. GDP and social spending
36. GDP and competitiveness
37. GDP and IQ
38. GDP and adult literacy rates
39. GDP and unionization
40. GDP and employment share of agriculture
41. GDP and stock prices
42. GDP and the salary of political leaders
43. GDP and risk tolerance
44. GDP and government debt
45. GDP and cocaine use
46. GDP and penis size
47. GDP and property rights
48. GDP and energy use
49. GDP and hunger
50. GDP and consumption
51. GDP and love
52. GDP and internet use
53. GDP and social networking
54. GDP and smartphone ownership
55. GDP and state failure
56. GDP and length of political tenure
57. GDP and confidence in healthcare
58. GDP and emigration
59. GDP and soda consumption
60. GDP and gender discrimination
61. GDP and male height
62. GDP and light intensity

1. GDP and corruption

The graph below shows the correlation between low levels of GDP and high levels of corruption (as measured by the Corruption Perception Index, or CPI, of Transparency International):

corruption perception index and gdp transparency international

corruption and gdp

(source)

Here’s another study pointing to the same conclusions:

gdp and corruption

(source)
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2. GDP and poverty

Economic growth (annual growth in GDP per capita) and poverty reduction tend to go hand in hand.

(source)

economic growth reduces poverty

(source)

In the case of Africa, growth and poverty are almost absolute mirror images:

one dollar a day poverty and gdp growth in subsaharan african

(source)

The correlation between GDP and poverty is even stronger when we don’t look at GDP growth but GDP level (per capita):

poverty and gdp correlation

(source)

Here are data for a few countries, comparing average per capita GDP for a number of years to average household income for households in the bottom half of the income distribution:

Netherlands gdp per capita and household income below the median

Norway gdp per capita and household income below the median

ireland gdp per capita and household income below the median

US gdp per capita and household income below the median

(source)

The causation here is double: high GDP growth and high GDP level mean more and better jobs and therefore higher incomes, and also a larger tax base allowing the government to do more for the poor. Conversely, people who are relatively wealthy tend to have higher human capital which is good for growth. More here.

The correlation between poverty reduction and GDP holds for absolute poverty, but not for relative poverty. Economic growth doesn’t seem to reduce relative poverty:

economic growth, absolute poverty and relative poverty

(source)
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3. GDP and the resource curse

Countries with lots of natural resources tend to do worse than countries with less resource wealth, both in terms of economic growth and in political, social and human rights terms. We see that countries which own lots of natural resources such as diamonds, oil or other valuables that are found in the ground, are often relatively poor, badly governed, violent and suffering from gross violations of human rights.

This figure shows the correlation between resource exports as a share of GDP for a number of countries and their GDP growth:

resource curse resource exports as share of gdp

(source)

Another version:

resource curse and GDP

(source)
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4. GDP and economic freedom

Economic freedom means the ability to make voluntary transactions and personal economic choices, the freedom to compete, and security of privately owned property. This is the definition of the Fraser Institute. This institute tries to measure the degree to which the policies and institutions of countries support economic freedom. Their index measures:

  • size of government
  • legal structure and security of property rights
  • access to sound money
  • freedom to trade internationally and
  • regulation of credit, labor and business.

They conclude that economic freedom has grown considerably in recent decades and that economic freedom is correlated with income. The complete ranking of countries is here.

economic freedom and GDP correlation

(source)

The following chart shows the correlation between prosperity measured in terms of GDP per capita and economic freedom according to the Heritage index this time. Although there are many elements promoting or discouraging prosperity, it is necessary to stress the importance of economic freedom:

economic freedom and income

The following graph shows the correlation for developed countries only (also using the Heritage index):

Economic freedom and income correlation

(source)

(The Heritage Index used here is not uncontroversial. See here for the reasons why. Also, economic freedom should not necessarily be the same thing as “conservative” or “small government”: good government may be just as important for economic freedom).

Here’s another indicator of economic freedom – the World Bank’s Ease of doing business index – and its correlation to GDP:

economic freedom and gdp correlation

(source)

Here’s another study looking at the link between growth and liberalization understood as “comprehensive reforms that extend the scope of the market, and in particular of international markets”:

liberalization and economic growth

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5. GDP and rule of law

rule of law and gdp correlation

(source)

GNI and rule of law correlation

GNI and rule of law correlation

(source)
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6. GDP and democracy

There are at least two types of links between democracy and GDP. Is it true that the wealthier a country, the more likely it will be – or turn out to be – a democracy? Cross-country analysis often only shows a weak correlation between democracy and economic growth:

democracy gdp correlation

(source)

The correlation is weak because there are numerous authoritarian countries that have strong growth figures. Most notably China of course. However, those countries shouldn’t be viewed as typical: there are just as many authoritarian countries with very weak growth figures:

gdp growth and authoritarian government

gdp growth and authoritarian government 2

(source, the growth rate here is the geometric average of per capita growth per year for the years between 1960 and 2008; the source for the democracy data is Polity IV)

Furthermore, it’s also relatively easy to produce good growth figures when the baseline is very low, as was China’s some decades ago. In such cases, neither the presence or absence of democracy does much to promote or stifle growth.

The correlation between democracy and GDP is stronger when we look at the level rather than the growth of GDP. Here’s the correlation for a sample of countries composed of Austria, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, France, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UK, and the US:

democracy and gdp

(source)

Richer countries (with the exception of most wealthy Muslim countries) tend to be or become democracies:

democracy and income correlation

democracy and income correlation

(source)

Because the graph above plots income in 1971 against democracy scores in the following decades, you can see that the causation goes from income to democracy. A high level of GDP predicts a flourishing (or at least continuation) of democracy. However, the opposite also seems to be true. Here’s a graph plotting current income against older democracy scores, suggesting that democracy also promotes growth:

gylfason%20fig3%2015%20nov

(source)

Here are some more correlations:

gdp and probability of democracy correlation

political rights and gdp correlation

(source)

democracy and gdp

(source, scatter plot covers all countries with population larger than 1 million and with fuel exports less than 50% of export revenues)
global trends in wealth and democracy

The red is world GDP estimates produced by economist Brad De Long to show the exponential growth in human wealth over the past 200 years. The blue line plots the spread of universal suffrage across states in the international political system, as recorded in the Political Institutions and Political Events (PIPE) data set.

(source)

The causation seems to go both ways: democracies promotes income growth and growth promotes democracy. One can indeed assume that transparency, rule of law, accountability and other characteristics of democracy are good for growth. Likewise, a more wealthier population will most likely demand democratic reforms.

More interesting perhaps is an in-country analysis. This paper examines the effect of democratic transitions on economic growth. Since democracy and the absence of poverty are both human rights issues, and since poverty usually correlates with insufficient economic growth (see above), it is encouraging to see that countries which have experienced a transition to democracy experience higher average growth after the transition.

The graph below, from the paper, plots the evolution of real per capita GDP growth in the years surrounding a successful democratization (the year of the democratization being T), compared to the global growth rates in each year. The average growth is the purple dashed line. The graph also shows that the transition itself may imply economic costs, but in the longer term democracy pays off.

gdp growth around permanent democratizations

Why does this happen? Why is democracy good for economic growth? For many reasons, some of which are the rule of law and respect for human rights (property rights, freedom of information etc.). More here.

A second link between democracy and GDP has to do with election outcomes. Once a country is a democracy, the election outcomes in that country depend heavily on economic growth:

economy and elections

(source)

income growth and election outcomes

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7. GDP and infant mortality rates

Not surprisingly, wealthy countries – wealthy in the commonly accepted sense of high GDP per capita – have a lower IMR because they have the means to invest in healthcare, sanitation, drugs etc.:

gdp v under 5 mortality rate 1970

gdp v under 5 mortality rate 1970

gdp v under 5 mortality rate 2010

gdp v under 5 mortality rate 2010

(source)

infant mortality vs gdp

But this is not necessarily the case, as shown by the outliers in the following graph:

under five mortality rate reduction and economic growth

(source)
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8. GDP and life expectancy

The following graph shows the correlation between level of GDP per capita and life expectancy rates, one indicator of poverty and one of the three elements of the HDI:

gdp poverty life expectancy

Perhaps the following graphs give a clearer picture:

life expectancy and gdp correlation

(source)

life expectancy and gdp per capita correlation

(source, click image to enlarge)

A detailed correlation for China:

gdp and life expectancy in China

(source)

gdp and life expectency

(source)
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9. GDP and education

The following graph shows the correlation between GDP per capita and education (more specifically enrollment rates in secondary education):

gdp education

secundary education and gdp per capita

(source)

Correlations do not show causal links but it’s likely that the causation works both ways in this case: higher GPD per capita means better education (because of more investment in education) and better education means higher GDP because human capital is an important cause of growth.

Some more graphs:

education and gdp correlation

education gdp correlation

(source)

Notice that in the last graph, the education level is dated in 1900, showing how strong the link between better education and GDP is over time. Better educated people have better educated children and so on, and this chain of education has long-lasting benefits for growth.

Here are some graphs showing the correlation between education spending and GDP:

education spending and GDP correlation

education spending and GDP correlation

(source)

oecd+ed+4

(source)
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10. GDP and the environment

This curve shows a U-shaped relationship between per capita GDP and the quality of the environment. Measures of the quality of the environment do indeed fall in the initial stages of economic growth, but this trend turns around at about $5.000 per capita GDP, with many measures of environmental damage showing improvement from $8.000 onwards (source).

environmental kuznets curve

(source)

Here’s an example. If we look at forest coverage – one element of environmental protection – we see the Kuznets curve: poorer countries tend to chop down forests, richer countries to plant them:

gdp and change in forest coverage

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11. GDP and happiness

We establish a clear positive link between average levels of subjective well-being and GDP per capita across countries, and find no evidence of a satiation point beyond which wealthier countries have no further increases in subjective well-being. We show that the estimated relationship is similar to the relationship between subject well-being and income observed within countries. Those enjoying materially better circumstances also enjoy greater subjective well-being and ongoing rises in living standards have delivered higher subjective well-being. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers (source)

This study, based on two cross-country happiness surveys (one by Pew and another by Gallup), found that richer countries are happier than poorer ones, and that this is reflected internally in countries (rich people are happier than poor people). No surprise perhaps, but an additional reason to fight poverty, on top of the reasons linked to under-education, ill-health, lack of political representation etc.

life satisfaction and real gdp per capita pew

life satisfaction and real gdp per capita gallup

These data are confirmed by another study based on the Penn World Tables (for cross country analysis) and the General Social Survey (for U.S. data):

happiness and income cross country

life satisfaction and per capita GDP

happiness and income

(source)

gdp and happiness

(source)

On the other hand, there is this:

There is no significant relationship between the improvement in happiness and the long term rate of growth of GDP per capita. This is true for three groups of countries analyzed separately − 17 developed, 9 developing, and 11 transition − and also for the 37 countries taken together. Time series studies reporting a positive relationship confuse a short-term positive association between the growth of happiness and income, arising from fluctuations in macroeconomic conditions, with the long-term relationship, which is nil. (source)

And there’s this survey showing that countries which report themselves as being the happiest tend to be poor and middle-income countries, while the gloomiest are rich countries:

happiness and gdp

(source)

Some argue that higher income is positively associated with happiness and life satisfaction but that the association is curvilinear: more income means more happiness, but less so at high levels of income than at low levels. One reason is the declining marginal utility of wealth. However, I’ve yet to find data supporting this view.

There are also these two graphs about the US, showing no correlation between increases in GDP and happiness:

GDP and happiness in the US

(source)
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12. GDP and unemployment

Here’s a scatterplot of annual GDP growth rates versus annual changes in the unemployment rates over the past 60 years, for the U.S.:

gdp and unemployment correlation

GDP and unemployment correlation

(source)

This is known as Okun’s law:

okun+1 okun+2

(source)

Another graph for the US:

gdp and unemployment

gdp and unemployment correlation

So, the higher GDP growth, the lower unemployment, which seems rather obvious. And the same is true for all countries, not just the US. However, if we look not at growth of GDP but its level – namely GDP per capita – then we see that there’s not much of a correlation:

relationship between unemployment and GDP

(source)

Poorer countries don’t necessarily have higher jobless rates. They are poor not because many of their citizens are unemployed but because many only have part-time jobs or have to work for themselves, not making a lot of money in either case:

relationship between underemployment and GDP

relationship between employment for an employer and GDP

(source)

gdp and payroll to population

(source)
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13. GDP and land distribution

gdp and land distribution correlation

(source)
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14. GDP and charity

correlation between gdp and charity

(source)
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15. GDP and individualism

gdp and individualism correlation

(source, more on the Hofstede index is here)
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16. GDP and inequality

Countries that are more equal in income terms are also richer:

income inequality and gdp

(source)

But how about the relationship between inequality and economic growth? The classic causal story, based on work by Simon Kuznets,

Kuznets curve

Kuznets curve

maintains that there’s an inverted U-shaped relationship over long periods of economic development. As emerging economies grow they initially become less equal as the few with high financial endowments profit off of their ownership of key productive resources, like land. Then, as industrialization evolves, much more of the population has the chance to participate in higher value-added work which reduces inequality. (source)

In this argument, growth determines inequality: first growth drives inequality up, and then it gradually reduces it.

However, this Kuznetsian view has come under fire recently. Thomas Piketty for instance, in his “Capital in the Twenty-First Century“, has criticized Kuznets’ view that inequality will eventually stabilize and subside on its own given increasing growth. According to Piketty, increasing wealth concentration is a likely outcome for the foreseeable future. Kuznets findings were based on a historical anomaly. And indeed, the lines in this graph do not turn downwards to form an inverted U-shape:

gdp-vs-gini

(source)

Which is why it’s perhaps better to look at the causation in another way: maybe inequality or equality determine growth rather than vice versa. For example, there’s this study arguing that high income inequality is likely to inhibit growth, especially in developing countries:

gdp per capita growth and gini developing countries

gdp per capita growth and gini rich countries

(source)

Inequality inhibits growth, especially in developing countries, because

high income inequality can discourage the evolution of the economic and political institutions associated with accountable government (which in turn enable a market environment conducive to investment and growth); and … high income inequality can undermine the civic and social life that sustains effective collective decision-making, especially in multi-ethnic settings. (source)

This study comes to a similar conclusion. It argues that, in general, more inequality endangers the sustainability of growth. Long consistent spells of economic growth are correlated with low levels of income inequality:

income inequality and gdp growth

(source)

A growth spell in this graph is a period of at least five years that begins with an unusual increase in the growth rate and ends with an unusual drop in growth.

It may seem counterintuitive that inequality is strongly associated with less sustained growth. After all, some inequality is essential to the effective functioning of a market economy and the incentives needed for investment and growth … But too much inequality might be destructive to growth. Beyond the risk that inequality may amplify the potential for financial crisis, it may also bring political instability, which can discourage investment. Inequality may make it harder for governments to make difficult but necessary choices in the face of shocks, such as raising taxes or cutting public spending to avoid a debt crisis. Or inequality may reflect poor people’s lack of access to financial services, which gives them fewer opportunities to invest in education and entrepreneurial activity. … [S]ocieties with more equal income distributions have more durable growth. … [A] 10 percentile decrease in inequality (represented by a change in the Gini coefficient from 40 to 37) increases the expected length of a growth spell by 50 percent. (source)

Some additional support for this view: redistributive policies – which are anti-inequality policies – don’t actually harm growth:

inequality

(source, source)

Redistribution doesn’t help either, according to this graph, but maybe it counteracts the negative effect of inequality on growth given that it counteracts inequality. In that sense, it does help.

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17. GDP and election outcomes

Presidential election outcomes in the U.S. – and probably in many other democracies as well – depend on economic growth, and more on growth in the year before the election than on growth at any other point in time:

economy and elections

(source)

And, indeed, the same is true for many other countries:

gdp growth and election results

(source)
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18. GDP and civil war

gdp and civil war

(source)
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19. GDP and belief in the theory of evolution

gdp and belief in evolution correlation

(source)
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20. GDP and crime

Although there was a recession in 2008/2009, crime rates didn’t go up. On the contrary, the U.S. states which suffered the biggest drops in per-person income, such as Nevada, also saw the rate of property crime come down most:

gdp and property crime

(source)
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21. GDP and world population

world gdp per capita and population growth

(source, click image to enlarge; the circle size and color change as GDP per capita increases)
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22. GDP and fertility rates

Well, GNI, actually, not GDP:

fertility and national income

(source)

But the same is true for GDP:

birth rate and gdp per capita

(source)

It seems that the richer a country the lower the average number of children, which is kind of obvious. A large number of children is typically an insurance against the risk of infant mortality and is typical for agricultural societies dependent on manual labor in family run farms.

However, more prosperity doesn’t always equal less children. An economic downturn, for instance, can also reduce the number of children:

birth rate and recession

(source)
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23. GDP and taxation

[If you want to read a more systematic investigation of the link between taxation and GDP, go here].

It’s commonly assumed, especially on the right of the political spectrum, that high tax rates punish the most productive elements in a society and that the whole of society suffers as a result. More productive people will limit their productivity because they don’t want to fall into a higher tax bracket, and they can’t invest the money they pay in taxes. Taxing the rich therefore has an unacceptable economic cost, in terms of both productivity and investment. Conversely, low tax rates for the rich produce benefits for all (this is trickle down economics, read also about the Laffer curve).

But this narrative doesn’t quite stand the test of data. Let’s first have a look at top marginal tax rates in the US:

top marginal tax rates and gdp growth

top marginal tax rates and gdp growth, US data

(source)

top marginal tax rates and economic growth, US

(source)

correlation between economic growth and changes in top marginal tax rate

(source)

As is clear from these graphs, high marginal tax rates obviously don’t slow down economic growth, and low rates don’t speed it up. This paper also supports the claim that moderate, as opposed to dramatic, increases in top marginal rates don’t have any impact on the willingness of the wealthy to participate in the economy.

The top income tax rate was 91% (beginning at taxable income of $400,000) … [in] the period from 1951 through 1963. Those were the golden years of the U.S. economy, in which the average annual rate of productivity growth was 3.1% (compared with about 1.5% after 1981). Of course, the growth might have been even faster had the marginal tax rates been lower, but the coincidence of high rates and high productivity raises challenging questions for those who believe that high marginal tax rates carry an unacceptable cost. (source)

To be fair, marginal tax rates are a crude measures of the tax burden. There’s a difference between marginal tax rates and effective tax rates.

  • A marginal tax rate is the tax rate that applies to the last dollar of the tax base (taxable income or spending, usually income). It’s not the rate at which all your dollars are taxed. It’s the maximum rate you’re paying on any of your dollars of taxable income.
  • An effective tax rate refers to the actual rate, i.e., the rate existing in fact, for the entire income, after tax deductions and credits and taking into account lower rates for lower income brackets (see here). It’s your total tax obligation (including your income tax and any other additional taxes and/or credits such as capital gains taxes), divided by your total taxable income.

But even if we look at the effective tax rates of the rich in the U.S., we see that this rate has steadily decreased over the decades, with little or no positive effect on overall economic performance (GDP growth has remained more or less stable on average):

effective federal tax

effective federal tax, US data

(source)

And when there’s no positive effect of decreasing tax rates, there’s probably also no negative effect of increasing tax rates. To the extent that the wealthy (and productive, although those groups obviously don’t overlap completely) respond to changes in the tax system, they don’t respond with increased or decreased labor, productivity or investment. They instead try to avoid taxes when taxes increase (see here).

Indeed, the story about the need to reduce taxes as a way to boost GDP and employment doesn’t seem correct. This conclusion is also illustrated by comparing the Clinton tax increases with the Bush tax cuts in the U.S.:

influence of tax cuts or tax increases on employment and GDP

influence of tax cuts or tax increases on employment and GDP

(source)

The common conservative criticism of European type welfare states – that welfare requires high tax rates which in turn harm economic efficiency – doesn’t hold water. Looking at the U.S. and other affluent countries we don’t see this effect. (Always keeping in mind that correlation doesn’t imply causation and that the absence of a large negative effect of high taxes doesn’t preclude the possibility that lower taxes would have had a large positive effect).

If we plot economic growth rates for the U.S. against the effective total tax rates for the wealthy – those who are in theory most productive, most willing and able to invest, and therefore also most likely to cause a negative effect in overall GDP when they react negatively to increased tax rates – we get the following picture:

effect of tax rates on economic growth in the US

effect of tax rates on economic growth in the US

effect of tax rates on economic growth in the US

(source)

If anything, higher tax rates lead to more growth. But of course there can be catch-up effect: higher rates producing their effects only years later. That’s taken into account in the following graphs, which also show that an international comparison doesn’t prove that countries with higher tax rates have lower growth:

effect of tax rates on economic growth international comparison

effect of tax rates on economic growth international comparison

effect of tax rates on economic growth international comparison

(source)

How about capital gains taxes? Does cutting them help the economy?

The chart displayed [below] shows top tax rates on long-term capital gains and economic growth (measured as the percentage change in real GDP) from 1950 to 2011. If low capital gains tax rates catalyzed economic growth, you’d expect to see a negative relationship–high gains rates, low growth, and vice versa–but there is no apparent relationship between the two time series. The correlation is 0.12, the wrong sign and not statistically different from zero. I’ve tried lags up to five years and also looking at moving averages of the tax rates and growth. There is never a statistically significant relationship. (source)

tax rate on income from capital gains and effects on economic growth

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24. GDP and spending on Christmas gifts

GDP and spending on Christmas gifts

(source)
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25. GDP and casual sex

gdp and casual sex correlation

(source)

I don’t know what the causal story would sound like. Richer people being able to afford motel rooms? Having more leisure time? …

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26. GDP and equality before the law

correlation between GNI and equality before the law

correlation between GNI and equality before the law

(source)
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27. GDP and CO2 emissions

gr-gdp-emissions-300

The correlation between growth and emission is different:

GDP and CO2 emissions

(source)

By the way, if you’re wondering what “decoupling” means:

When GDP and CO2 emissions both grow, but GDP grows faster, that’s relative decoupling. It’s an important start towards sustainability, but not enough because CO2 emissions are still rising: you could call it greener growth. But given that global CO2 emissions have already overshot sustainable limits, what’s actually needed is absolute decoupling, and that’s only achieved when GDP grows while CO2 emissions fall absolutely. That has to be the standard for green growth – and it’s what high-income countries must achieve if they are to cut their CO2 emissions significantly below 1990 levels, to help stop dangerous climate change. (source)

And since a picture speaks louder than words:

Relative and absolute decoupling - GDP and resource use

(source)
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28. GDP and campaign spending

presidential campaign costs US

election costs include all major candidates’ spending and cost of primaries, when known; they do not include outside spending

(source)

Barack Obama felt that he had to spent $730 million to win the 2008 election. That’s roughly the GDP of Timor-Leste.

The so-called killer argument of those in favor of unlimited election spending is that the cost of a ticket to the White House hasn’t kept up with US GDP, as if it should keep up with US GDP:

presidential campaign costs v gdp

(source)

I see absolutely no reason why a slower growth of campaign spending compared to the growth of GDP should automatically deflate our worries about campaign spending. After all, it’s not as if a country needs to spend more on elections as it becomes richer. On the contrary. If campaign spending is defended as a means to inform the public, then one could counter with the fact that people in wealthy countries tend to be better educated and to have good access to modern information sources. Hence, they don’t need to be “informed” by political parties or candidates, especially not if this “information” takes the form of a deluge of hatefilled ads and lying propaganda. The absolute level of campaign spending should remain a worry, wether or not it’s higher or lower than GDP or any other unrelated indicator.

And before you ask: yes, money in politics is a problem, and more money means more problems. If you’re not convinced go herehereherehere or here.

^ back to top

29. GDP and tax revenue

This one is rather obvious: the bigger the economic pie gets, the more governments get from taxes, even with unchanging tax rates:

tax revenue and gdp correlation

(data for the US)

However, when you look at the growth of the pie rather than the pie itself, the correlation all but disappears:

gdp and government revenues

Hence, one can’t really argue that low tax rates promote economic growth.

^ back to top

30. GDP and urbanization

GDP v urbanization rate

(source)

gdp v urbanization

(source)

urbanization and poverty

^ back to top

31. GDP and military spending

military spending and GDP growth

(source)
^ back to top

32. GDP and government spending

change in gdp versus change in government spending

(source)

This chart plots (on the X-axis) the percentage-point change in government spending between 2009 and 2010, and (on the Y-axis) the percent-point change in GDP from 2010 to 2011. This lag is necessary because the impact of government spending on GDP growth might be spread out over a year or so. The conclusion: there is no obvious relationship between a decrease in government spending and an increase or decrease in GDP. So-called austerity policies are obviously not necessary in order to kickstart growth, but neither are they detrimental to growth.

summers_austerity_chart

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33. GDP and innovation

Innovation and particularly technological innovation are well-known drivers of economic growth. The Global Innovation Index (GII) ranks 141 countries across more than 80 metrics of innovation. Compare these rankings to GDP and you get this:

gdp and innovation correlation

(source, click image to enlarge)

gdp innovation

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34. GDP and religion

gdp and religiosity correlation
income and church attendance US

(source)

More specifically, there’s a correlation between GDP and the opinion that a belief in God is necessary for morality:

Bin3SZbIMAESH4X

(source)
^ back to top

35. GDP and social spending

Social spending vs GDP growth

(source)

High level of government spending on social programs don’t seem to bring down GDP growth levels. (The GDP growth figures in the graph above are adjusted per capita GDP growth figures. The adjustment tries to control for how wealthy each country is. In plain English, we’d expect poorer countries to grow faster than richer countries. It’s what economists call convergence.)

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36. GDP and competitiveness

The World Economic Forum issues a global competitiveness ranking of 144 countries. It’s based on criteria such as availability of capital, flexibility of labour markets, economic stability, infrastructure and public services.

global competitiveness and GDP

(source)
^ back to top

37. GDP and IQ

It’s commonly believed that human capital is an important driver of economic growth. One element of human capital is intelligence and the health and performance of the human brain. (Other elements are skills, knowledge etc.). A one point increase in a nation’s average IQ is associated with a persistent 0.11% annual increase in GDP per capita (source).

IQ and GDP correlation

(source)

The arrow of causation probably goes both ways: the Flynn effect, the 2 to 3 points-per-decade increase in IQ found in developed countries, gives us some reason to believe that increases in the quality and quantity of education, reductions in poverty, and increases in overall literacy can increase a nation’s average IQ. More here.

There’s also this:

Lynn and Vanhanen (2012) have convincingly established that national IQs correlate positively with GDP, education, and many other social and economic factors. The direction of causality remains debatable. The present study re-examines data from military psychological assessments of the German federal army that show strong IQ gains of 0.5 IQ point per annum for East German conscripts in the 1990s, after the reunification of the country. An analysis of IQ, GDP, and educational gains in 16 German federal states between 1990 and 1998 shows that IQ gains had a .89 correlation with GDP gains and a .78 correlation with educational gains. The short time frame excludes significant effects of biological or genetic factors on IQ gains. These observations suggest a causal direction from GDP and education to IQ. (source)

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38. GDP and adult literacy rates

gdp and adult literacy rates correlation

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39. GDP and unionization

The chart below plots union density in 1991 against GDP growth since then. There’s a negative correlation between the two because of Korea is an outlier. If Korea is excluded, there’s a positive correlation (0.25) across the 22 advanced nations. Highly unionized Finland and Sweden have done better than less unionized Japan or the US. This doesn’t mean that unions are definitely good for growth. But it does mean they aren’t obviously bad.

gdp and unionization

(source)
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40. GDP and employment share of agriculture

gdp v employment share of agriculture

(source)
^ back to top

41. GDP and stock prices

This is for the US only:

gdp per capita vs stock prices since 1871

gdp per capita vs stock prices since 1871

(source)

The stock price series is adjusted for inflation using CPI-U while the GDP per Capita (from MesuringWorth.com) is adjusted with the GDP Deflator.

Annualized growth rate of since 1871: Real GDP per Capita = 2.0% Real stock price return = 1.9%

^ back to top

42. GDP and the salary of political leaders

Absence rather than presence of correlation for this one:

correlation between gdp and salary of political leaders

(source)
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43. GDP and the salary of political leaders

correlation between risk tolerance and gdp

(source)

U.S. citizens, despite their willingness to change jobs, to move, to allow guns in public life and so on, are actually somewhat risk averse.

^ back to top

44. GDP and government debt

gdp debt correlation

(source)

government debt and gdp correlation

(source)
^ back to top

45. GDP and cocaine use

gdp and cocaine use correlation

The same is true for marijuana use by the way – at least in the US:

pot_gdp

^ back to top

46. GDP and penis size

photo

gdp male organ penis

(source)
^ back to top

47. GDP and property rights

gdp and property rights

(source)
^ back to top

48. GDP and energy use

gdp and energy use

(source)

6a00e551f0800388340147e28ae7c7970b-pi

^ back to top

49. GDP and hunger

large

(source)

Here’s another version:

BhKR9oPIYAANlSz

^ back to top

50. GDP and consumption

gni consumption correlation

(source)
^ back to top

51. GDP and love

gdp and love

(source)
^ back to top

52. GDP and internet use

gdp and internet use

(source unknown)
^ back to top

53. GDP and social networking

gdp and social networking
(source)
^ back to top

54. GDP and smartphone ownership

gdp and smartphone ownership

(source)
^ back to top

55. GDP and state failure

state failure and gdp

(source)
^ back to top

56. GDP and length of political tenure

20140222_gdc377

(source)
^ back to top

57. GDP and confidence in healthcare

Bh0wwAPCcAAVXlj

(source)
^ back to top

58. GDP and emigration

For poor countries, more development and higher GDP means more emigration:

gdp and emigration

(source)
^ back to top

59. GDP and soda consumption

Screen_Shot_2014-04-15_at_11.57.11_AM

(source unknown)
^ back to top

60. GDP and gender discrimination

poverty-and-discrimination
(source)
^ back to top

61. GDP and male height

wealth-height-netherlands

^ back to top

62. GDP and light intensity

(red dots are autocracies)

(red dots are autocracies)

As the economy grows, you may expect to see more lights at night (e.g. as cities expand etc). And indeed, research suggests that there’s a very strong correlation between economic growth and nighttime lights, meaning that the latter is a good indicator of the former. Furthermore, it’s an indicator that is unlikely to be manipulated by governments. (source)

Lights can then be used to assess the quality of dictatorships GDP figures.

^ back to top

123 thoughts on “Statistics on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Correlations

  1. yongke says:

    One way to look at it is this: GDP is highly correlated with the general well-being of a country. Everything from corruption, freedom, health are all related to GDP growth. There for, I think GDP growth should be the first priority of any developing country. It should be pursued above all else. Only when GDPPC is sufficiently high can you deal with corruption, freedom, etc, and not the other way around.

    • Please take a closer look at #8, “GDP and life expectancy.”

      It shows that life expectancy, a broad measure of several aspects of overall quality of life, correlates to GDP only up to around $15,000 per capita per year.

      For higher levels of GDP, there is shockingly little correlation. All that extra wealth doesn’t seem to consistently buy much.

      Thus, this graph and the underlying relationship convincingly refute the simplistic growth-uber-alles belief.

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  5. Max says:

    Hi,

    Lots of really great stuff here. I’m trawling through most of it for my economics coursework.

    Thanks again,

    Max.

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  10. meg says:

    “One way to look at it is this: GDP is highly correlated with the general well-being of a country. Everything from corruption, freedom, health are all related to GDP growth. There for, I think GDP growth should be the first priority of any developing country. It should be pursued above all else. Only when GDPPC is sufficiently high can you deal with corruption, freedom, etc, and not the other way around.”

    Think you’re mistaking correlation and causation here. Raising GDP for a country won’t get rid of corruption, won’t guarantee good healthcare nor economic freedom. Instead country with good economic freedom, small corruption and generally healthy citizens tends to have high GDP and lead to better economic growth.

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  14. mel says:

    I have on an assignment the following question:

    Explain how high literacy rates,high employment, and a low number of people living below the poverty line correlates with a high GDP per capita.

    Any help??

    • You’ll find something on the link between poverty and economic growth here (make sure to click on the links there for even more information). On unemployment and lack of growth there’s something here. About literacy, take a look here (although there’s nothing specific on literacy and growth correlation).

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  17. Thank you for a very extensive summary of this subject

    The next step (if data was easy to get, which it isn’t) would be to do multivariate regression analysis optimally comparing rate of change of GDP with rate of change of the variables, and then omit the auto-correlations.

    That aside, eyeballing the charts, it looks like the BIG things that grow GDP are in order of “effect”

    1: Rule of Law
    2: Lack of corruption (similar to above – although hard to prove corruption stunts GDP growth rather than poverty leads to corruption).
    3: Economic Freedom
    4: Education (although as you point out education is more available in rich countries…I suspect if you plotted education against the rate of change in GDP you might find a negative correlation).

    The rest look like “noise”.

    Interesting that when Jaques Chirac stood up to say why he would not join in the Holy Crusade to destroy Iraq, he said (forgive my French spelling)… he said “there must be “La Justice””.

    That was widely reported by everyone including the BBC as “Froggies say there must be Justice”, and everyone scratched their heads like they do when the French say “actually I am going to do this or that…” when they really mean “now I’m going to do…”.

    La Justice, as I am sure you are aware means…”The Rule of Law” (in French).

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  21. Kevin says:

    Great stuff. Want to help the poor? History has shown us the best way is to decrease the size of government and increase economic freedom. This isn’t a theory or philosophy, it’s a fact. We have an entire world of countries proving this point every day, and have been proving it for decades.

    • Max says:

      Wrong! Economic ”freedom” certainly isn’t the Be-All and End-All to society general well-being. The economic freedom Heritage index, just as the author pointed out, is far from uncontroversial. This index generally gives higher notes to Nordic countries than it does with the U.S, which is absolute nonsense. Those European countries pay very high taxes and have a pretty large government with tons of social programs. This index was mostly made up by intellectually dishonest member of Wall Street trying to enforce their Neoliberal ideology into people’s minds. They simply couldn’t accept the fact that Social democracy is a better system than their Libertarian utopia. By the way, capitalism in itself, if let completely loose, is destined to fail because we simply can’t create illimited richness on a planet with limited ressources. Now, this is a fact!

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  25. Fowzia says:

    Could anyone tell me are all these data based on world as in not only us or canada but comparing the whole world..
    Does unemployment rate correlate to inflation? I need some stat as well
    and
    Does GDP correlate to inflation?? I need some stat as well

  26. Greg says:

    Unemployment was thought to correlate with inflation (meaning lower inflation means lower unemployment) until the 70s, when “stagflation” happened in the U.S., stagnating the U.S. economy for around 10 years. From 1982 to 2007 we had low inflation and low unemployment. So there is no reliable correlation, but if there is one I would suggest that low inflation, not high inflation, leads to lower unemployment simply because a stable currency leads to a better economic environment.

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  28. Roland says:

    Most interesting…thanks much.

    Anyone know of any comparisons between income equality and level of poverty (not percent, but level)? In other words, are the lower economic individuals better of in equal-but-poor countries, or in countries with highly disparate wealth distribution? Related – what countries, if any, evidence both economic equality and high wealth?

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  74. I would also like to thank you for a very interesting analysis of this topic. Also, I was particularly impressed with the comment by Andrew Butter. I have conducted regressive analysis (…although I have not conducted any multivariate regressive analysis and think that is a very good suggestion to capture some other variables) concerning GDP and corruption in Brazil arriving at some very contrasting results. For example (…and according to Mr. Butter’s summary concerning the big things that grow GDP), Brazil clearly has rule of law, however in contrast corruption is considerably high, while economic freedom is evident, yet educational funded extremely poorly and substandard. In spite of this, Brazil’s GDP continues to grow. Any ideas on how to explain these results? Thanks.

    • Part of the explanation is that it is easier to achieve high growth rates from a relatively low baseline. Corruption, low levels of education etc. then do less damage to growth because there’s still a lot of low hanging fruit.

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  79. Please prepare charts relating economic growth to poverty, but do it by a large term and by country. I believe you will find that poverty reduces when the country is developing, but it will increase again after a certain point of growth. That will be a really meaningful chart. The point where the poverty reduction stop should be the limit of growth.

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