If you ever searched for a country's GDP per capita chances are that you saw a chart showing its evolution over the years. For example the United States had a GDP per capita (PPP) of $54,000 in 2017, but only $37,000 back in 1990 (measured in constant 2011 International Dollars), about the same as Portugal in 2021. If we go back to 1960 the US GDP per capita of $18,000 (still using 2011 International Dollars), about the same as Botswana or Equatorial Guinea today, and a bit less than China. So Botswanans are as wealthy today as Americans were when John F. Kennedy was president. This puts things into perspective.

Even better, if we go back to the great golden age of Victorian Britain, say in 1870, British people were the wealthiest in the world, but their GDP per capita was... only $5700! That's lower than countries like Syria, India, Bolivia or Angola today.

That made me wonder when each country reached some wealth threshold in history? For instance, at what point did people enjoy a living standard equivalent to $10,000 in constant 2011 international dollars? An international group of scholars worked on the so-called Maddison Project to estimate the GDP per capita of various countries and region at various points in time in the last 2000 years. You can see the data here and here. Based on this, I listed the chronology of countries first reaching the $10,000 bar. Incidentally this was the approximately world's average GDP per capita from 2011 to 2017.

When did each country first reach a GDP per capita of $10,000 (in 2011 international dollars)?


  1. United States 1913
  2. Switzerland 1931
  3. New Zealand 1938
  4. United Kingdom 1940
  5. Australia 1941
  6. Canada 1942
  7. Denmark & Sweden 1949
  8. Netherlands 1953
  9. Belgium & Norway 1955
  10. France 1956
  11. Germany 1957
  12. Finland 1960
  13. Japan 1966
  14. Israel 1968
  15. Ireland 1971
  16. Portugal & Spain 1972
  17. Russia & Czechia 1973
  18. South Korea 1987
  19. Mexico 1991
  20. Poland & Turkey 1996
  21. Brazil 2002
  22. South Africa 2007
  23. China 2011


Now let's see when these countries reached half that level of wealth. It has been theorised that democracies become more stable once a country has reached $6000 of GDP per capita as explained in this thread. The $5000 per capita threshold is also approximately when most democratic countries became democracies in the first place (with the notable exception of the United States, which was much earlier). Countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Honduras or Palestine that had a GDP per capita around $5000 in 2018.

When did each country first reach a GDP per capita of $5,000 (in 2011 international dollars)?


  1. United Kingdom 1859
  2. Australia 1868
  3. New Zealand 1871
  4. United States 1873
  5. Belgium 1882
  6. Netherlands 1883
  7. Switzerland 1886
  8. Canada & Denmark 1902
  9. Austro-Hungary & Germany 1906
  10. France 1909
  11. Sweden 1923
  12. Norway 1928
  13. Finland 1936
  14. Italy 1940
  15. Ireland 1948
  16. Czechoslovakia 1949
  17. Israel 1951
  18. Japan 1957
  19. Spain 1958
  20. Russia 1959
  21. Greece & Poland 1960
  22. Portugal & South Africa 1962
  23. Mexico 1963
  24. Brazil 1971
  25. Turkey 1973
  26. South Korea 1977
  27. China 2001


You can see the difference of economic growth between countries. It took 81 years for the UK to pass from $5000 to $10,000 per capita, but only 10 years for South Korea or China, and 9 years for Japan!