18/03/2020

Living costs

Ranking topics: Highest cost of living

Osaka's reputation as “the kitchen of Japan” stems not from its culinary prowess but from the many warehouses that have stored the nation’s rice and other goods for centuries. Osaka can now also claim the title of the world’s most expensive city, according to the latest findings of the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey from our sister company, The Economist Intelligence Unit. It shares the top spot with Hong Kong and Singapore, both previous holders of this dubious honour.

The survey, which was conducted last autumn—long before the spread of covid-19—compares the prices of more than 150 items in 133 cities around the world. The results are primarily used by firms to negotiate appropriate compensation when relocating staff. The three Asian cities that lead the ranking were found to be more expensive than New York, the benchmark, albeit by just 2%. Paris, which shared the top spot with Hong Kong and Singapore last year, has fallen four places to fifth. Indeed, of the 37 European cities surveyed, 31 experienced a fall in overall rank because modest domestic demand and weak global energy prices kept inflationary pressures subdued across the region.

In contrast, America’s strong economy and an appreciation of the dollar pushed American cities up the rankings. Fifteen of the 16 in the survey rose. The highest climbers were Boston (from 51st to 33rd), where fast-paced population growth continued to push up demand; Atlanta (76th to 63rd), where a strong jobs market and rising house prices had a similar effect; and San Francisco (25th to 15th), where a high concentration of wealthy individuals meant that prices continued to rise quickly for more luxurious goods and services in categories such as personal care, clothing and domestic help (for which it is the most expensive city in the world).

The lower end of the ranking is beset by cities facing political and economic instability. The Syrian capital, Damascus, afflicted by civil war (and hence soaring inflation and goods shortages), returns to the bottom of the index.

This article is from our Graphic detail section.