GDP Per Head in Three Asian Powers Catches Up With Europe’s Big Three

In the past half-century, economic activity per head in three Asian countries caught up with that of Western giants, recent data show.

Singapore, South Korea and Japan steadily rose in gross domestic product per capita (GDPPC) from 1960 to 2016, overtaking in 2012 Europe’s biggest economies in terms of GDP — United Kingdom, Germany and France. These three Asian powers, along with China, Russia and India, top the Asia Power Index 2018.

As opposed to GDP, which is the most widely used measure of a country’s economic activity, GDPPC is “a better indicator of the change or trend in a nation’s living standards over time,” according to Investopedia.

Dr. Pascal Abb, a Vienna-based researcher focused on East Asia’s international relations, said:

Per capita GDP describes a society’s wealth and development without taking size into account, which is of course crucial especially for the Chinese case.

Luisito Abueg, graduate fellow at the University of the Philippines Department of Economics, said that the change of GDPPC over a period of time has become a staple in the set of macroeconomic indicators of a country and of the global economy in general.

Abueg added:

However, growth is not the same as development, since GDPPC is an average of total GDP over population. For example, growth in China may be on double digit, but is much skewed towards the coastline provinces.

In 2013 Singapore overtook the United States in GDPPC for the first time, and continued to stay above it in 2014. During that time Singapore had a GDPPC of $33,163 and a population of 5 million, compared with the $31,909 and 316 million, respectively, in the U.S.

Japan was the first among the Asian powers to close the gap with its Western counterparts by surging to $9,714 in 1970, more than double its $3,986 in 1960. Singapore reached Western levels by the 1990s, and Korea caught up in 2005.

PwC has reported that by 2050 the shift in global economic power to Asia will continue.

Abb said:

When we’re talking about a general power shift to the Asia Pacific, in my view, the main trend is that the region accounts for an ever greater share of world economic activity, leading to speculation about possible political effects down the road, especially undermining the US-centric regional and global order.

The Maddison Project shows comparative economic growth and income levels since AD 1 but most of the countries started registering GDPPC only by the 19th century. The 2018 version covers 169 countries and the period up to 2016.


(This is part of a portfolio for Data Journalism class at City, University of London Fall 2018)

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