Heavy national debt is one sign of wealth, a reflection of lender faith they’ll be repaid. Debt also triggers some of the touchiest political debates the world over.
We often talk about government debt as a percentage of GDP to try to understand the vulnerability of any given country’s financial house-of-cards. U.S. debt ran at over 104% of its GDP in 2015; it had averaged just about 62% from 1940 to 2015, according to government data. By comparison, Japan, burdened by an aging population and stagnant economic growth, shouldered government debt running at 229% of GDP in 2015. It has no foreign debt, which does improve its overall debt picture.
Read: Here’s some perspective on the U.S. national debt as it approaches $20 trillion
And then there’s the indebtedness of a population. One of the best ways to stack up the global debt picture is to divide national debt load by population. When you do this, you may be surprised, the U.S. ranks not 1st, not even 2nd, but as the 5th-most indebted nation, at an average $42,503.98 per person.
While Ireland, Singapore, Belgium, the U.S. and Canada all run above trend, the top spot belongs to Japan, with an average of $85,694.87 owed per person, according to data from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and CIA World Factbook, crunched by cost information website Howmuch.net, in this chart.
This “snowball of debt” makes it pretty clear that people living in developed countries owe quite a bit toward their country’s national debt, while people living in underdeveloped nations, many without an accessible credit system, owe very little. Countries where people owe the least are mostly African, but include parts of Asia, Pacific island-nation Kiribati and the Caribbean’s Haiti.
The map does reveal a few exceptions to the trend of poorer nations owing the least amount towards debt per person.Taiwan is a relatively wealthy nation with a large economy compared to the size of its population, but each Taiwanese citizen only owes $7,223.90 toward Taiwan’s national debt.
And all tossed together? At $152 trillion, global debt was 225% of the world gross domestic product in 2015. Two-thirds of this debt, amounting to about $100 trillion, consists of liabilities of the private sector, according to the IMF.