elderly tailor The United Statesaverages 23 years of expected human capital, measured as thenumber of years a person can be expected to work in the years ofpeak productivity. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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There are some lists where you want to be in first place, and some where you don't. When it comes to ranking humancapital, the United States is definitely going in the wrongdirection—from 6th place down to 27th. China on the other hand, isgoing the other way, having risen from 69th to 44th place.

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That's according to the results of a new first-of-its-kindscientific study that ranked countries for their levels of human capital. The study “Measuring human capital: A systematic analysis of195 countries and territories, 1990 to 2016,” which waspublished in medical journal The Lancet, placed the U.S. one spotdown from Australia and just above the Czech Republic for itsinvestments in health care and education as measurements ofits commitment to economic growth.

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Related: Wellness and investing in ourselves: How theyimpact our human capital

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As reported on Popular Resistance, “Human capital is the sumtotal of a population's health, skills, knowledge, experience andhabits. It is a concept that recognizes that not all labor isequal, and the quality of workers can be improved by investing inthem.” And the U.S. is falling down on the job.

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While in 1990 the U.S. came in 6th, its current rating of 27thin the world represents “having 23 years of expected human capital,measured as the number of years a person can be expected to work inthe years of peak productivity, taking into account lifeexpectancy, functional health, years of schooling, and learning.”Finland, for its part, finished in first place.

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Meanwhile, China—as well as Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam andSingapore, in addition to Brazil—have all shown marked improvement,as have Middle Eastern countries and Equatorial Guinea.

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“The decline of human capital in the United States was one ofthe biggest surprises in our study,” Dr. Christopher Murray,director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)at the University of Washington, said. “Our findings show theassociation between investments in education and health andimproved human capital and GDP—which policymakers here in the USignore at their own peril. As the world economy grows increasinglydependent on digital technology, from agriculture tomanufacturing to the service industry, human capital growsincreasingly important for stimulating local and nationaleconomies.”

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He concludes, “Clearly, China is on an upward trajectory, whilethe U.S., without more strategic investments, especially ineducation, risks falling behind even further.”

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The U.S. owes its current lower position to “minimal progress,particularly in educational attainment, which declined from 13years to 12,” according to the report.

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.