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Only a country of reindeer, oil and gas is a better place to live than Australia.

The United Nations has ranked Australia No. 2 behind Norway in its annual human development index that attempts to measure the quality of life across 187 nations.

Across measures such as life expectancy, quality of schooling, government spending and suicide, Australia finished second for the second consecutive year.

Australia is ahead of the US (third), the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand and Ireland.

Britain is 26th on the index and South Africa ranked 121st.

Australia's high position is because of several factors.

The UN's annual human development index shows that Australia kept its No. 2 position even though across most indicators there was an improvement in life for most Australians.

Australia has one of the highest life expectancies in the world at 82 years. By contrast, it is 78.7 years in the US.

Despite complaints about the nation's schooling system, international testing of 15-year-olds shows Australian students above all but a handful of nations. Australian children ranked higher than their counterparts in Norway.

Australia has kept spending on health under control compared with other nations, giving governments scope to spend in other areas.

However, the country was marked down in areas such as fossil fuel dependency and deforestation.

Australia was the only country in the top 10 to have lost forest area between 1990 and 2010.

It was also marked down on gender inequality, ranking 17th in the world behind nations such as the Netherlands, Denmark and France.

Australia's teenage pregnancy rate, though low at a global level, was third-highest among the top 10 nations.

The report said there had been a global improvement in human development, led by nations such as Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and East Timor.

The West Australian

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