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New International Comparison Program data sheds light on global economy and living standards

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ICP 2021 cycle results are now available at This blog series covers all aspects of the ICP and explores the use made of these data by researchers, policy makers, economists, data scientists, and others. We encourage users to share their data applications and findings in this blog series via

New economic indicators from the International Comparison Program (ICP) deliver in-depth insights into the state of the global economy and material well-being across the world in 2021. The purchasing power parities (PPPs) produced by the program are a vital global data public good, enabling comparisons between countries across a wide range of socioeconomic and development measures. The PPP-based data is also crucial for monitoring progress towards many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The ICP, now in its 56th year, is one of the most extensive and long-standing global statistical initiatives in the world. The 2021 cycle, covering 176 economies, marks the tenth global economic assessment since the initiative was launched. The ICP relies on a unique multi-agency partnership of international, regional, sub-regional, and national statistical agencies working to a common set of standards and methodology. The successful completion of the ICP 2021 cycle is testament to the resilience and dedication of these institutions, which navigated the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to deliver jointly the invaluable ICP results.

How are the ICP's PPP-based estimates different from market exchange rate-based GDP estimates? PPPs provide a more accurate measure of living standards across countries because they account for the varying price levels of goods and services. This means they can better reflect what money can buy in different countries – establishing purchasing power parity. Market exchange rate-based estimates do not make this adjustment, often inflating the buying power of high-income countries (where prices are high) and underestimating that of low-income ones (where prices are relatively low). In contrast, PPP-based GDP estimates offer a view of a country's GDP that is not skewed by price differences or affected by market exchange rate fluctuations.

Delve into the key findings from the new purchasing power parity data and engage with the interactive visualizations below.

1. In PPP terms, the largest three economies generated over 40% of the global gross domestic product (GDP). China was the largest economy in 2021, accounting for 19%, followed by the United States, which contributed over 15%, and India, which contributed 7%.

2. In 2021, middle-income countries increased their share of global GDP to 53%, up from 51% in 2017.

High-income countries, where one in six of the world’s population live, contributed 46% of global GDP in 2021. Upper-middle-income countries, home to one in three people, contributed 35% of GDP. Lower-middle-income countries, where two in five people live, accounted for 18% of output, while low-income countries, home to one in 12, or a little over 8% of the global population, accounted for just over 1% of the global economy. 

3. Among regions, East Asia and the Pacific had the highest share of global GDP, accounting for a third of global GDP in 2021.

Europe and Central Asia contributed a quarter. North America was the third largest region at 17% of global GDP, followed by South Asia at 9%, Latin America and the Caribbean at 7%, Middle East and North Africa at 5%, and Sub-Saharan Africa at just over 3%.

4. In 2021, three in four people in the world lived in countries where the average material well-being of the population was below the global average.

In 2021, the United States had the highest living standard in the world at four times the global mean.

This insight is available because an essential metric from the ICP, "actual individual consumption" (AIC), which captures spending that directly benefits individuals, including services provided by governments or others. AIC per capita is a more accurate measure of living standards than GDP per capita, as it focuses solely on consumption that enhances individuals' material well-being, rather than encompassing wider economic activities such as collective consumption by government, investment, as well as imports and exports.

5. In some of the world’s wealthiest countries, AIC per capita can be just a third or even less of GDP per capita.

This difference arises because GDP includes substantial contributions from investments, natural resources, and the output of non-residents working within a country's borders, which increase GDP figures without necessarily reflecting expenditures benefitting individuals.

The 2021 ICP findings reveal the enhanced insights PPP-based metrics provide into the global economy and living standards worldwide. The World Bank’s guide, Purchasing Power Parities for Policy Making: a Visual Guide to Using Data from the International Comparison Program provides an in-depth look at the application of PPPs and ICP data across a broad spectrum of developmental issues, ranging from poverty and inequality, food and nutrition, health, and education through energy and climate, trade, and infrastructure, offering guidance on the optimal use of these insights, as well as setting out their recommended applications and limitations. 

The World Bank is proud to be part of this global collaborative effort, which consistently delivers crucial data that informs our efforts to eradicate poverty and ensure sustainability for our planet. For more information, visit the International Comparison Program website.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the visuals and editing by Edie Purdie.

Haishan Fu

Chief Statistician of the World Bank and Director of the Development Data Group

Marko Rissanen

Program Manager, Development Data Group, World Bank

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