Asia’s Economic Tigers

Originally trumpeted as the world's "tiger economies," most East Asian countries have long had robust economic growth rates, in some cases stretching as far back as the 1950s. We wonder: Which of these Asian countries now has an average income higher than the United States'?

A. Japan
B. South Korea
C. Taiwan
D. Singapore

A. Japan is not correct.

At nearly $36,000, Japan's GDP per capita is 76% that of the United States (which stands at around $47,000), according to The Conference Board. It might seem surprising that Japan, the world's third-biggest economy, lags considerably behind the United States, especially since Japan has long prided itself on being a technologically advanced nation.

This is largely explained by the so-called lost decades of the 1990s and 2000s when, after Japan's asset bubble collapsed, the country's economy grew slower than it did in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, two decades ago, Japan's GDP per capita had reached a level almost 90% that of the United States.

B. South Korea is not correct.

South Korea's per capita GDP, at over $31,000, is equal to 67% that of the United States. While not quite at Japan's level, South Korea has come a long way. Back in 1950, South Korea's GDP per capita was only 9% of the United States'. Its economy has since advanced rapidly, with sectors like car manufacturing, shipbuilding and consumer electronics forming the backbone of its growth.

C. Taiwan is not correct.

At about $38,000, Taiwan has reached a GDP per capita level of 82% of the United States'. By comparison, mainland China currently has a per capita income of about $9,600 (adjusted for purchasing power), less than one-fifth of the average U.S. income level. In 1950, Taiwan's per capita income was only 11% of the U.S. level, well below where mainland China is today.

D. Singapore is correct.

Singapore, with its population of 4.8 million, is the only country in Asia whose per capita income exceeds the United States'. At $63,000, it is 35% higher.

By comparison, Ireland, which until its recent economic woes was dubbed the "Celtic Tiger" due to its rapid economic growth, has a GDP per capita 87% that of the United States. This is a decline from 2007, when it was equal to the U.S. level. In comparison, the per capita income of Europe's largest economy, Germany, is 81% of the U.S. level. Ireland currently outranks Germany partly due to it having attracted a relatively high share of investment from foreign multinationals, with its low corporate tax rate being a major draw.

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