Lifestyle & Culture

Vienna No. 1: Europe leads Mercer’s list of cities ranked by quality of life

Why are we doing Dispatches Europe?

This is why. When New York-based Mercer compiles its annual lists of cities with the highest quality of life, Western European cities always top the lists.

This year, the global human resources consulting firm rates Vienna as having the highest quality of life in the world.  (So, now Vienna-based contributors Ivana Avramović and Nina Avramović Trninić can now say, “We told you so.”)

Mercer_QualityofLiving_SafetyHere’s the full 2016 list:

  1. Vienna
  2. Zurich
  3. Auckland
  4. Munich
  5. Vancouver
  6. Dusseldorf
  7. Frankfurt
  8. Geneva
  9. Copenhagen
  10. Sydney

If you want to drill down a bit more, Mercer ranks Europe as nothing less than stellar when it comes to personal safety:

  1. Luxembourg City
  2. Bern
  3. Helsinki
  4. Zurich
  5. Vienna
  6. Geneva
  7. Stockholm
  8. Singapore
  9. Auckland
  10. Wellington

So, you’re asking, “Where are New York, London and San Francisco?”

Way down the list.

San Francisco is the first U.S. city on the list at No. 28, tied with Canberra. London is tied with Barcelona at No. 39 and New York comes in with a No. 44 ranking, which it shares with Tokyo. But Europe as a whole – especially northern Europe – virtually owns Mercer’s Top 50, with No. 52 Madrid the only major European capital city failing to make the cut.

Here’s the way Mercer sums up Europe’s dominance: “Auckland, Sydney, and Vancouver join European cities among the Top 10 destinations with the highest quality of living, while certain Western European cities, cities in New Zealand, and Singapore are the safest for international employees.” The lowest rated major European city is Istanbul at No. 122. Which we take issue with, but that’s a story for another day. Among the lowest rated European cities of any size are Skopje, Macedonia and Sarajevo, Bosnia, which again, we don’t quite get. Skopje is No. 159, just below Sarajevo at No 158. Both great cities.

The absolute lowest rated European city is – not surprisingly – Tirana, Albania at No. 179 (we do concur with that one!) out of 230, with Baghdad dead last. (Again, one of our favorite cities along with San’a, Yemen at No. 228. Of course, our experiences are colored by the fact we were sent to these fabled cities when they were still largely functioning.)

So, let’s look at Mercer’s methodology. The firm essentially uses the same benchmarking expats use because it is, after all, a global talent and human relations firm. And when it gets down to it, they’re singing from the same hymnbook as Dispatches. One of the many business lines they have is helping businesses help expats flourish, and Mercer publishes an annual global cost of living survey.

From the report:

Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey assesses quality of living conditions to help multinational companies and other employers fairly compensate employees when placing them on international assignments. Mercer compiles reports for each city, providing an overview of conditions and hardship premium recommendations. Factors such as climate, disease and sanitation standards, ease of communications, and physical remoteness can often affect the success of a foreign assignment. Moreover, the local political and social environment, political violence, and crime may give rise to potentially uncomfortable, inconvenient, or even dangerous situations. To encourage mobility, reliable information is needed to help calculate fair, consistent expatriate compensation for hardship locations.

Mercer isn’t doing all this out of altruism. They do it because they want to work with your company as it sends employees hither and thither in the increasingly integrated global economy.

Here’s the full methodology:


Mercer’s Quality of Living Rankings cover 230 prevalent destinations for globally mobile talent and are based on our Quality of Living Survey, which assesses quality of living conditions in over 440 locations to help multinational companies and other employers fairly compensate employees when placing them on international assignments.

Living conditions are analyzed according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories:

  1. Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc.).
  2. Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services).
  3. Socio-cultural environment (media availability and censorship, limitations on personal freedom).
  4. Medical and health considerations (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc.).
  5. Schools and education (standards and availability of international schools).
  6. Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion, etc.).
  7. Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc.).
  8. Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc.).
  9. Housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services).
  10. Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters).

The scores attributed to each factor, which are weighted to reflect their importance to expatriates, permit objective city-to-city comparisons. The result is a quality of living index that compares relative differences between any two locations evaluated. For the indices to be used effectively, Mercer has created a grid that enables users to link the resulting index to a quality of living or hardship allowance amount by recommending a percentage value in relation to the index.

About Mercer (from Wikipedia):

Mercer is the world’s largest human resources consulting firm. Headquartered in New York City, Mercer has more than 20,500 employees, is based in more than 40 countries, and operates internationally in more than 130 countries.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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