Economist Intelligence Unit Liveability Rankings

2012 Results

2012-economist intelligence unit liveability rankingsThe Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) releases its Liveability rankings for cities around the world twice yearly (January and August). The latest release in 2012 saw the continuing dominance of Australian and Canadian cities in the top 10. Once again Melbourne took top spot, with Adelaide in 5th, Sydney 7th and Perth 9th. Three Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary) made the top 10. The final spots were filled by Vienna (Austria), Helsinki (Finland) and Auckland (New Zealand). Figure 1 below reveals the Top 10 cities and their various total and sub-category scores. Over the past 12 months there has been minimal change at the top of the EIU liveability rankings; for example Vancouver slid a little in 2011, but the scores for the top 65 for the second half of 2012 remain identical to those six months ago. Further down the rankings, European financial concerns and civil unrest in the Middle East have seen a decline in scores for cities in these regions. Broadly speaking the presence of conflict is a strong factor in the cities ranked at the bottom of the ladder, with total scores below 50. Conflict itself as an individual component of the stability category, not only reduces the stability score, but also has a flow on effect on other criteria such as infrastructure, hospitals and the supply of goods.

Figure 1: Top 10 Cities EIU Liveability Rankings August 2012

The top ten cities (100=ideal; 0=intolerable)

CountryCityRankOverall Rating (100=ideal)StabilityHealthcareCulture & EnvironmentEducationInfrastructure
New ZealandAuckland1095.79595.897.010092.9

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit – A Summary of the Liveability Ranking and Overview, August 2012

Figure 2: Australian Cities in EIU Liveability Rankings 2010-2012

EIU Liveability Survey — Recent Australian Rankings


Source: Capital City Committee from Economist Intelligence Unit data

The EIU Liveability Survey’s primary purpose is to assess whether hardship allowances should be granted to expatriates when they are sent to work in a specific city. Figure 3 shows the recommendations from the EIU regarding allowances based on the cities liveability score. Additionally, the survey is intended to allow cities (and governments) to be benchmarked and comparisons made between cities in terms of liveability and the specific factors making up the EIU scores and criteria.

Figure 3: EIU Suggested Allowances based on Liveability Ranking Score

RatingDescriptionSuggested allowance (%)
80–100 There are few, if any, challenges to living standards0
70–80 Day-to-day living is fine, in general, but some aspects of life may entail problems5
60–70Negative factors have an impact on day-to-day living10
50–60Liveability is substantially constrained15
50 or lessMost aspects of living are severely restricted20

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit – A Summary of the Liveability Ranking and Overview, August 2012

What is the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Liveability Survey?

The EIU Liveability survey ranks 140 cities over 30 criteria in five categories:

The vast majority of the data used by the EIU is qualitative; in the list above the quantitative data is highlighted in brackets. In-house expert country analysts and field correspondents calculate the qualitative data scores for each city. The quantitative data is calculated from the relative performance of each city using the relevant external data source. Each factor score is rated as: acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable.  The final results are presented in three formats, as a ranking of the 140 cities, as a score out of 100 and as a relative rating in terms of New York as a baseline score of 100.

In 2012, EIU in conjunction with data sharing company BuzzData hosted a public competition aimed at combining data from the EIU’s Liveability rankings and Cost of Living rankings with proposed other data sources by individuals. Filippo Lovato was the winner, with an entry that created a ‘Spatially Adjusted Liveability Index’. These factors included: green space, sprawl, natural assets, cultural assets, connectivity, isolation and pollution.  Due to resource and time limitations only 70 or the EIU 140 cities were evaluated, with Sydney the only Australian city included. Figure 4 below shows the results for the top 20 cities (it is worth noting the second column normal EIU ranking in Figure 4 below refers to the 70 included in this, hence Toronto is listed at 1 and not Melbourne).

Figure 4: Spatially Adjusted Liveability Rankings August 2012 – Top 22

 RANK–Spatial Adjusted Liveability IndexRANK–EIU Liveability IndexChange in ranksGreen Space (1=best–5=worst)Sprawl (1=best–5=worst)Natural Assets (1=best–5=worst)Cultural Assets (1=best–5=worst)Connectivity (1=best–5=worst)Isolation (1=best–5=worst)Pollution (1=best–5=worst) 
Hong Kong11091.21.01.342.31.33
Toronto81 1-
Washington DC1411-
New York162371.34.32.341.02.31.5
Los Angeles1717
San Francisco182132.24.71.352.33.31.5

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit – A Summary of the Liveability Ranking and Overview, August 2012


Australian cities in recent years have scored very favourably on the EIU Liveability Index, with four in the current top 10 in 2012. When examining the top cities it is apparent many are mid-sized cities in reasonably wealthy countries with relatively low population densities. These types of cities have a tendency to offer stable governments, stable economies, high levels of recreational and cultural services without the high levels of crime, inconvenience and overburdened infrastructure such as roads and public transport systems. Seven of the top ten scoring cities are in Australia and Canada, with population densities of 2.88 and 3.40 people per sq km respectively. In addition Helsinki (Finland) and Auckland (New Zealand), also in the Top 10, both have densities of 16 people per sq km. What is also evident in the EIU liveabilty rankings is the minimal variation between the scores of the top locations. There are only 1.8 percentage points separating the top ten cities, and 63 cities (down to Santiago in Chile) are considered to be in the very top tier of liveability, where few problems are encountered. While 16.8 percentage points separate Melbourne in first place and Santiago in 63rd place, both cities can lay claim to being on an equal footing in terms of presenting few, if any, challenges to residents’ lifestyles. Cities with large populations, high densities and seen as economic powerhouses are not as highly ranked as one would initially think.  As The Economist alluded to in their report these big cities may be victims of their own success, whilst they have the big city buzz, this in turn can overstretch infrastructure and raise crime rates. They state ‘New York, London, Paris and Tokyo are all prestigious hubs with a wealth of recreational activity, but all suffer from higher levels of crime, congestion and public transport problems than would be deemed comfortable.’ It then becomes a balance between slightly reduced liveability factors (as compared to mid-sized cities) versus high wages, cost of living and personal tastes. It is important to remember the intention on these rankings is not to assess liveability from the perspective of everyday residents of a city. This a significant distinction; expatriates have very different expectations from a city (new and different for them) than permanent residents. One such example is housing and rental affordability, in many ways an integral component of liveability, but in the case of expatriates, is not relevant or included in the EIU Liveability survey. Another key measure for residents is quality of public education, which is not highlighted, whereas private education covers two measures in the EIU, which is relevant to expatriates as companies commonly provide for private education fees. Other missing measures important to residents include job availability, universities, density, buzz/vibrancy, human capital or diversity. Whilst there is one measure of ‘cultural availability’, it is a combination measure that includes climate, censorship, religion and corruption.

More information/Detailed Results

A publicly available summary EIU Liveability report can be found on their website, once you register for free. It contains summary information on the latest results, methodology, the criteria, the top 10 and bottom 10 cities and then several example city profiles. The most recent survey included Melbourne and Dhaka. Full reports on individual cities and also comparison snapshot reports can be purchased, prices are $265 per city in 2012 or $5,250 per annual subscription for complete results. See their website for further information.