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World Economic Forum's Human Capital Index 2013: Europe Dominates As The U.S. Lags Behind (PHOTOS)

10/01/2013 03:27 pm ET

When it comes to investing in people, Europe is way ahead of the curve.

That's the conclusion of a new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) measuring the long-term economic potential each country derives from its labor force. As economies around the world deal with shifting demographics, from an aging workforce to rampant youth unemployment, a nation's ability to make the most of its human capital becomes increasingly important.

"The key for the future of any country and any institution lies in the talent, skills, and capabilities of its people," executive chairman Klaus Schwab writes in the WEF's Human Capital Report. "By providing a comprehensive framework for benchmarking human capital, the Report highlights countries that are role models in investing in the health, education, and talent of their people and providing an environment where these investments translate into productivity for the economy."

The index analyzes 122 countries on four metrics: "health and wellness," "education," "workforce and employment," and "enabling environment," which uses factors such as infrastructure, legal framework, and social mobility to determine how well a country fosters the other three categories.

The results aren't all that surprising given previous studies on global health and economic wellbeing. Eight of the top 10 countries on the Human Capital Index are European, with Switzerland ranking first overall, largely due to high scores in both employment and wellness. Singapore (3rd) is the only Asian country in the top 10, thanks to its strong showings in education and employment, while Canada (10th) is the highest-ranking North American nation, with extremely high scores in education.

Despite placing 4th in workforce and employment, the United States ranked 16th overall, with health and wellness as a grim outlier. The world's largest economy was rated 43rd in that category, receiving its lowest scores in obesity, the impact on business of non-communicable diseases, and stress.

Back in August, a Bloomberg study pointed to the startling inefficiency of the U.S. healthcare system. In addition to taxing the economy and failing to support its citizens sufficiently, it appears the shortcomings of American medical coverage are also bad for business.

Check out the top-20 countries on the Human Capital Index in the slideshow below, and head over to WEF for the full report.

Human Capital Index 2013
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