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Canada remains in 6th place in annual UN development ranking

Canada is ranked sixth in the world in terms of achievements in incomes, health and education, the United Nations's annual human development index shows.

The latest report, to be released Wednesday, shows Canada's overall position hasn't changed from last year and has climbed three notches since 2006.

Norway is top of the 2011 list, followed by Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and New Zealand. The Democratic Republic of the Congo sits in last place of the 187 countries on the list.

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The index crunches numbers on schooling, life expectancy, and per capita income to rank countries in terms of human development. The annual study has changed its methodology, meaning rankings shouldn't be compared to prior years. It's worth noting, however, that Canada sat in first place in the overall ranking eight times in the 1990s.

This year's picture changes considerably when the index is adjusted for internal inequalities in health, education and income. By that measure, newly introduced last year, Canada tumbles out of the top 10 – sliding to 13th place.

And some of the wealthiest nations drop out of the top 20 list – the United States topples to No. 23 from No. 4, South Korea slides to 32 from 15 and Israel ebbs to 25 from 17. By contrast, Sweden, Denmark and Slovenia all climb up the rankings when equality is taken into account.

The index, when adjusted for inequality, "helps us assess better the levels of development for all segments of society, rather than for just the mythical 'average' person," said Milorad Kovacevic, chief statistician for the report. "We consider health and education distribution to be just as important in this equation as income, and the data show great inequities in many countries."

It finds that income distribution has worsened in most of the world. Latin America is still the most unequal region in income terms, though some countries such as Brazil and Chile are narrowing internal income gaps.

In overall human development terms, which includes life expectancy and schooling, Latin America is more equitable than sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, the report said. The 10 countries that place last in the 2011 overall ranking are all in sub-Saharan Africa.

Canada also doesn't fare nearly as well when gender disparity are taken into account. When the index is adjusted to account for gender equality, Canada slides to the 20th position.

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This year's report, launched in Copenhagen today, also examines how environmental degradation and social disparities are affecting countries.

Although living standards in most countries have been rising for several decades, it projects a "disturbing reversal of those trends if environmental deterioration and social inequalities continue to intensify."

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More

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