Blog | 06 Jun 2024

The 10 cities leading in human capital in 2024

Anthony Bernard-Sasges

Senior Economist, Cities and Regions

We recently launched our new Global Cities Index, which covers the 1,000 largest cities in the world and evaluates their performance in five categories: Economics, Human Capital, Quality of Life, Environment, and Governance. In Part 1 of our blog series, we covered the overall results of the Global Cities Index and in Part 2, we took a closer look at the Economics category. Now, in Part 3, we examine the leaders in the Human Capital category.

Human capital underpins the economic potential of every city

Human capital encompasses the collective knowledge and skills of a city’s population. It reflects the dynamics between educational attainment, innovation, and demographics at play across metropolitan areas. Cities with diverse, highly skilled workforces and innovative businesses are better positioned to adapt to technological change and compete globally in today’s knowledge-based economy. To achieve a more complete assessment of human capital in each city, we include six indicators in the Human Capital category:

Indicators in the Human Capital category

• Population growth: The 5-year population forecast for the city.
Age profile: The ratio of the city’s residents aged 65+ to the residents aged between 15 and 64 (roughly the retired population over the working-age population).
Universities: The number of universities in the city weighted by their rankings.
Corporate headquarters: The number of the world’s 2,000 largest corporations headquartered in the city.
Educational attainment: An average of the mean years of schooling of adults aged 25+ and the expected years of schooling for children aged 6 for a city’s residents.
Foreign-born population: The share of the population residing in the city born outside of the city’s country.

These indicators measure the educational and business climates of each city, in conjunction with demographic trends. They emphasise the importance of people in driving economic prosperity and recognise cities that invest in education, business, and diversity.

The top 10 cities in the Human Capital category

The cities leading the Human Capital category are hubs for higher education and business innovation, helping them attract diverse and highly skilled populations. Cities in five regions appear in the top 10. London is the clear winner here, rising well above the rest of the pack. It has the most globally ranked universities of any city in the world and nearly the most global corporate headquarters as well. These educational and employment opportunities attract people from all over the world, helping to keep population growth above—and the age profile younger than—the rate of many peer cities, including New York, Tokyo, and Paris.

Hover over the chart to see the Human Capital scores of the top cities:

Tokyo takes the second spot in the Human Capital category, as it has the most corporate headquarters in the world and nearly as many universities as London. Despite worries about Japan’s ageing population making headlines in recent years, Tokyo remains a global hub for innovation, and its score in this category is further bolstered by very high levels of educational attainment.

In third place is Riyadh. The Saudi capital has become a leader in this category in part due to the country’s Vision 2030 program; several megaprojects in Riyadh have attracted foreign workers to the city, and many companies are relocating offices to its growing business hub. The story is similar in the other Middle Eastern city in the top 10, Abu Dhabi (#8). Like Riyadh, it has a young population with many foreign-born residents, and several corporate headquarters.

Despite being located on four different continents, New York, Seoul, Paris, and Sydney all follow the same path to the top of the rankings. All four are known for both their educational institutions and business districts. Some of the best universities in the world call these cities home, such as Columbia University, Seoul National University, Sorbonne University, and the University of Sydney. And they all act as hubs for business and innovation within their regions, but also play major roles on a global scale.

Washington, DC (#7) and Boston (#10) land in the top 10 in the Human Capital category because their residents are among the most highly educated in the world. In Washington, this is a byproduct of many people working in the city’s policymaking arenas, while in Boston, the educational ecosystem led by Harvard and MIT attracts talented students, academics, and researchers from around the globe.

The 2024 Human Capital rankings of the Global Cities Index highlight that there are leaders in this category across the world. No single region dominates the top 10, but a concurrence of global trends could reshape this list in the future. Diverging demographic outlooks, with slowing population growth in Asia and Europe, could elevate more North American and Middle Eastern cities. Meanwhile, the phenomenon of “deglobalisation” and other global migration patterns may alter where businesses and residents decide to put down roots. However, one thing remains clear: cities that continue to invest in their residents will outshine those that overlook them.

About the Global Cities Index

The Oxford Economics Global Cities Index ranks the largest 1,000 cities in the world based on five categories: Economics, Human Capital, Quality of Life, Environment and Governance. Underpinned by Oxford Economics’ Global Cities Service, the index provides a consistent framework for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of urban economies across a total of 27 indicators. To our knowledge, this is the largest and most detailed cities index in the industry. To download the full report, please visit


Anthony Bernard-Sasges

Senior Economist, Cities and Regions

+44 (0) 20 3910 8018

Anthony Bernard-Sasges

Senior Economist, Cities and Regions

London, United Kingdom

Anthony Bernard-Sasges is a senior economist. He primarily produces research and forecasts for cities in Canada and the Middle East & North Africa. Anthony holds a master’s degree in Development Economics from the University of Oxford and a bachelor’s degree in International Political Economics from Georgetown University.

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