Cost of living

How many hours do you have to work to buy an iPhone 6 in Madrid?

New study compares time you need to put in to afford key products in 71 world cities

The Apple Store in Turin, Italy.
The Apple Store in Turin, Italy.ALESSANDRO DI MARCO / EFE

In a cost of living survey published earlier this month, Swiss-based global financial services company UBS asks: “Do I earn enough for the life I want?” The 2015 Prices and Earnings report looks at the cost of living in 71 of the world’s major cities, among them Madrid and Barcelona, basing its analysis along similar lines to The Economist’s Big Mac index by comparing how many hours’ work earning an average local salary it would take to buy certain products of the same quality and characteristics. Among the items is an iPhone 6. The differences between the cities featured in the report make interesting reading.

In Hong Kong workers only have to labor for nine minutes to buy a Big Mac, while those in Nairobi would require three hours to get one

For example, the average resident of Zurich needs just 20.6 hours to buy Apple’s latest smartphone, while a New Yorker would require the equivalent of 24 days’ salary. This purchasing power is significantly greater than somebody who lives in Kiev (627 hours), Jakarta (468 hours), or Cairo (353 hours). Barcelona and Madrid sit around midway in the table: if you live in the Catalan capital you’ll have to put in 59.1 hours to buy your iPhone, and 60.5 if you work in Madrid.

But the distribution of cities in the ranking varies depending on the product under analysis. Workers in Hong Kong only have to labor for nine minutes to buy a Big Mac, while those in Nairobi would require three hours to get their hands on one of the McDonald’s hamburgers. In this case, the effort required by somebody working in Barcelona to buy a Big Mac is two minutes longer than the 19 minutes needed in Madrid.

The differences in accessing certain staples, such as bread or rice are also very large. For example, someone in Zurich, Geneva or Nicosia would have to work for five minutes to buy a kilogram of bread; but those in Manila would need 83 minutes, and people in Buenos Aires 57 minutes. A kilogram of rice can be bought with just four minutes’ work if you live in Oslo and Geneva, but 73 minutes in New Delhi, 66 in Cairo and 58 in Jakarta.

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UBS also asks how expensive the cost of living is in a given city. To answer the question its experts analyzed the prices of 122 products and services in 71 major conurbations. Leaving aside housing, the most expensive cities in the world are Zurich, Geneva, New York, Oslo and Copenhagen, while the cheapest are Kiev, Sofia, Bucharest, Bombay and New Delhi. Factoring in house prices, New York becomes the most expensive, followed by Zurich, Geneva, London and Oslo. The cheapest remain pretty much the same. Madrid and Barcelona, leaving housing costs out of the equation, occupy 41st and 39th place, respectively.

Then there is the question of salaries. According to UBS, people working in Zurich, Geneva and Luxembourg have the highest gross salaries in the world, 19 times higher than the average worker in Kiev, Jakarta and Nairobi, who earn the least. Barcelona wages come in 30th place, followed by Madrid in 31st.

Comparing how much it costs to eat is very useful in these kinds of reports. Although the quality and characteristics can vary between cities, the foodstuffs chosen by the Swiss bank for analysis are sufficiently similar to allow for comparison. The average weekly shop for 39 items in the 71 cities under scrutiny is $400. But residents of Zurich pay the most, at $738, which is 4.5 times more than somebody living in Kiev. In Madrid ($315) and Barcelona ($350), food is cheaper than in most other developed countries.