The U.S. Postal Service is about the best in the world at providing its core service of mail delivery. In fact, its ability to deliver mail and return undeliverable mail to the sender effectively makes the United States government one of the most efficient in the world, according to a working paper by National Bureau of Economic Research.

A group of economists rated the efficiency of the world's governments with a simple test of their postal systems. The group mailed fake letters to nonexistent businesses in 159 countries and waited a year to see which were sent back to a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The goal was to use a simple, universal service to explore why, other than corruption, developing countries tend to have poorly performing governments. All the letters went to countries that subscribe to the Universal Postal Union, which requires that incorrectly addressed mail be returned within a month.

The United States was one of only four countries to send the undeliverable letters back within 90 days, along with El Salvador, Czech Republic, and Luxembourg. In fact, the U.S. had the fastest return rate at 16 days, although it may have benefited from returning the letters to an address in the United States. It also returned 100 percent of the fake-addressed letters.

The study was not intended to assess the Postal Service, but the results do highlight some of its key strengths, at least compared to foreign posts. Foremost, better classification systems for addresses tended to result in faster returns, the economists noted. The Postal Service uses uniform address standards and its address database is among the most robust in the world.

Again, this was not the study’s intention, but the results seem to support the Universal Postal Union’s (UPU) position that a national addressing system is essential to the economic and social advancement of countries. In its recent white paper, “Addressing the World – An Address for Everyone,” the UPU says that in many developing countries, physical addresses exist only in city centers. Without physical addresses, it is difficult to impossible for public services and businesses to reach their intended targets.

“A quality address infrastructure must be considered as an essential part of a country’s socio-economic infrastructure, not only for improving public services, but also facilitating business, trade and, consequently, national development,” the UPU says.

How important is an addressing infrastructure to government efficiency and business development? What parts of addressing does the Postal Service do particularly well? What could be improved? Share your thoughts.

Comments (178)

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  • anon

    My mail keeps getting returned to sender, despite having the correct address. My husband and I are the first to live at our place. I am beyond furious at USPS. How is it that UPS and FedEx get packages to me with no problem, but the only mail I can get through USPS is the damn junk mail.

    Dec 06, 2016
  • anon

    I have the same problem and have even verified with the senders that they addressed their mailings correct. But multiple times the mail gets sent back to sender. I have a completely different experience to the claims made in this article.

    Feb 28, 2017
  • anon

    I am having the same problem with mail that is correctly addressed being returned to sender. In this case, it is only mail that is addressed to our business (which is the same address as our home address). The problem started just recently and has happened twice that we know of. I went to the post office and spoke to a supervisor on more than one occasion, and each time they carefully checked to make sure there were no problems.

    Mar 01, 2017
  • anon

    I returned to sender EZPASSNJ Tags through the Post Office Counter in Wingdale, NY on Nov 10th, 2016. It's almost 3 weeks now and they are not returned yet? Where could the package be?

    Nov 30, 2016
  • anon

    Me and my partner changed our address online through the post office and not all of our stuff is being forwarded like packages that we couldn't change the course of their address without dropping a lot of money. Like how hard is it to put a sticker on the package and forward it to our new address? I thought everything was forwarded?!

    Nov 26, 2016
  • anon

    My mail keeps getting returned to sender. I get some but not all.

    Nov 26, 2016
  • anon

    I sent a package to nigeria it was non payment on the 19 of this month how can I get it returned to me. it has not reached costumes yet.

    Nov 25, 2016
  • anon

    I sent a package to the wrong address and they received it they put it back in their mail box to send back to me. About how long would it take for the package to be returned to me. I have the tracking number but that won't do any good if they already received it right? Thank you for your time. Susan Dachtler

    Nov 23, 2016
  • anon

    My sister sent a international package to me from Taiwan, and I checked the tracking number of the package for 2 months. The package just arrived at San Francisco, and then it returned back to Taiwan. Where can I inquire the answer for why international package returned to the sender? because the received address is completely correct. I've no ideal and need to payed the additional fee for returning. It's waste my money and time. I need the answer since my sister already sent my the second international package on the way. Please help me knowing how to figure out the issue.

    Nov 20, 2016
  • anon

    I Sent a package to a friend after the package was delivered to a friend She told me she had return the package back to me.How do you i know the package was returned?I checked the tracking number given to me and it shows delivered to the received What's going on I need answers

    Nov 17, 2016
  • anon

    How can I tell if my mail was forward back to me from the sender !!!!

    Nov 16, 2016
  • anon

    Hello I had some very important mail that I have not received!!! The sender said it came back to them but I still live at the address that that mail was supposed to be deliver too!!! It was forward back to MeV 3 weeks later!!!! So I missed an important dead line!!!! How can I tell if the letter was mailed back to me fraudulent with the old dated stamp!!! Thank you

    Nov 14, 2016
  • anon

    The mail I sent to my niece 2 miles away in Delaware county with a LARGE return address Labeled in the upper left hand corner never got there. It's been almost 4 months and still Hasn't gotten there. In all my lifetime ,I have been complimented on my handwriting And being easy to read. Is there an understandable answer to this problem. I'm not used to gritting answers like, THESE tHINGS HAPPEN ! And GIVE IT SOME MORE TIME, iS THERE A BELIEVABLE answer to this problem ?? I would appreciate an answer

    Nov 11, 2016
  • anon

    With a return to sender letter, can you get your stamp refunded?

    Oct 25, 2016
  • anon

    If you sent a letter and they returned it back to you because they refused it or they moved and didn't put a forward in then no

    Nov 03, 2016
  • anon

    Hi just wanted to know if i expect mails from philadelpia to tobyhanna pa ..how long does it usually that to be delivered.

    Oct 19, 2016
  • anon

    I mailed a small letter 12 days ago and realized that I did not add the apartment number on it. Should I receive it back in the mail returned to me soon? Within the next 4 days like the previously read paragraph above stated? Or should I expect it to take up to a few more weeks?

    Oct 18, 2016
  • anon

    I was told by the postal service a few years ago that if I receive unwanted mail I should write "return to sender" and return it to outgoing mail. I tried that with mail from Direct TV and the mail carrier wrote on it to throw it away. This went on for 5 days where I kept putting it back in the outgoing mail box and I finally scratched my name and address off the mail but the carrier continues to put it back in my mailbox. This is a terrible waste of time which the post office seems to do a lot of. I want Direct TV to have to pay the return postage, as I was told they would by the post office, and maybe they will stop mailing to me. Fix this problem.

    Oct 18, 2016
  • anon

    This is going on in Maryland due to lazy mail providers. It does NOT follow USPS rules and regulations Technical PUB 300A. The USPS is required to RETURN TO SENDER and not write "trash" simply because they do not want to do their work.

    Oct 19, 2016
  • anon

    My bf buys a car on August 31st,his temporary tag expired since September 29th,n he still doesn't get his tag n the dealer said they have mailed it since Sept 16th to an old address,unfortunately he no longer lives here,the family who actually lives here says that they've mailed it back n neither him nor the dealer doesn't receive it yet,n he needs to go to work so what should he do?

    Oct 02, 2016
  • anon

    I havent received my mail and wanted to know why.

    Oct 01, 2016
  • anon

    Post office in Fresno ca on Tulare st by Clovis ave. the supervisor there keeps sending my social security card back. And his not supposed to. Please help what can I do....

    Sep 29, 2016
  • anon

    I have lived at my current apartment for over a year now and recently my mail has stopped coming. My friend, who was trying to send me a wedding invite, got the mail returned saying this wasn't the correct address. I told her it was correct and she tried again and it worked. My dental office has called me asking if we moved because my bills got returned back to them and I had to tell them that we don't know whats happening and to try again. I pay to relieve Game Informer magazines and now I can't even recieve those. My registration is due this month and I haven't received my reminder in the mail, luckily my friend was talking about it but now I only have a week to pay it. What is happening?!

    Sep 24, 2016
  • anon

    Same happened to me!!!

    Sep 27, 2016
  • anon

    The post service is horrible. They sent my urgent package to wrong place. Later, they found it and told me and assure me that they will resend to me on second day. But they did not, they send back to sender ,so far not sure if they send back correctly or not. It is the post office in Columbia, Missouri.

    Sep 20, 2016
  • anon

    A piece of mail that was originally stamped 12/17/15, then 8/20/16, then 9/7/16 and then today almost 9 months later we receive it back as no longer at this address. Who is held accountable for this and what is the standard procedure? Very disappointing to say the least.

    Sep 13, 2016
  • anon

    the same thing happened to me!!! I sent out christmas cards and the mail was originally stamped 12/17/15 and just last week (end of september) finally got it back returned undeliverable. same thing happened towards end of last year too around dec 2014... seems like during busy season things just slip through for them.

    Oct 02, 2016
  • anon

    My mail was returned to everyone because Fort Hood postal service did not inform me that after 30 days that will happen. Even though I told them to hold my mail, and that we were at a family emergency. They will not help me put, let alone Killeen postal service. My address has not changed either.

    Aug 26, 2016
  • anon

    You can put in a temporary forward ( be sure to specify the dates) to"General Delivery" in the local post office of the town that you are in currently. This can be done at any post office with a form or online at usps.com. You can also cancel the forward if you are going return earlier than expected.

    Aug 30, 2016
  • anon

    This article is joke. No body will answer all the questions and provide the assistance. The 800-ASK-USPS does nothing as well. My letter is missing and have talked to different people at the local post office. I got different answer every time. Well, at least the 800-ASK-USPS does provide assistance and tell me the same answer each time when I call. Because I have never get a chance to talk to a human being.

    Aug 26, 2016
  • anon

    I've been working for same company address has not change still my mail keeps being returned to me but I receive mail from them tired of my pay roll not being delivered

    Aug 25, 2016
  • anon

    if a package is received at the correct address, and has not been opened, but the person has moved to a different address, can you simply change the address and resend it, or do you need to pay additional postage? Can anyone tell me?

    Aug 21, 2016
  • anon

    As a result of my generosity to one or two charitable organizations I am now receiving dozens of requests from numerous concerns with address labels, notebooks, stationary, t-shirts, coins, dollar bills. Often several times a week from the same organization. I have contacted them by mail asking politely that they cease to send me anything in the mail. Some have stopped others not and new appeals seem to take their place. Is it ok for me to mark these "return to sender"?

    Aug 19, 2016
  • anon

    A postal worker in my town told me that if I write "return to sender" on those unwanted letters and packages from charities and advertisers, the post office employees WILL JUST THROW THEM AWAY. Maybe it's because the mail from those places are not sent with "first class" postage, but at a reduced bulk rate provided to them. So much waste, isn't it, to get mailings from a charity's national, state, city locations - and then sometimes for each holiday season. All that money they waste that should be spent on their research or on people they are supposed to be helping.

    Apr 29, 2017
  • anon

    I would like to understand why my mail person feels they have the right to take my mail and return it to sender. If I don't not check my mail everyday and three days ago by. They return to sender. How is this okay??? My husband and I both travel for work I am not going to keep putting my mail on hold every time I am gone for a few days. This is completely not okay. It makes problems for my bills every time they do this. If the USPS would stop sending me junk mail. My mail box would never get full!!! Did your issues and have some respect for those who keep paying for you to have a freaking job!!!!!!!

    Aug 18, 2016
  • anon

    I completely agree!!! I also travel for work and this same thing just happend to me and this is absolutely ridiculous!!!

    Aug 24, 2016
  • anon

    How do you pay for them to have a job? The postal service receives $0 from the Government.

    Oct 19, 2016
  • anon

    I mail 700 postcards to my customers twice a year. about 200 are returned each time, yet I know those people live at that address. Why does this happen.

    Aug 15, 2016
  • anon

    I have lived at the same address for 10 years, with no changes to my address or zip code. For some reason when my family mails me anything- it is automatically returned to them for WRONG ADDRESS. This is not correct. They are in fact sending it to the correct address and my post office is returning for wrongful reason. I have several letters of PROOF. Please advise.

    Jul 18, 2016
  • anon

    Sent letters two separate times to the same address not knowing the person had moved and it was past the forwarding period, neither of the letters were returned to me. Is there any way to find out what happened to these letters

    Jul 12, 2016
  • anon

    DID YOU GET A ANSWER FOR THE QUESTION, THANK YOU

    Nov 07, 2016
  • anon

    it was delivered to the mailbox at the address you had on the letter. the new person living there probably threw it away

    Aug 30, 2016
  • anon

    I've waited on my package to come from Ukraine, Kiev All the way to California & unfortunately USPS says Your item was returned to the sender on May 10, 2016 at 7:57 am in FOREIGN CENTERJERSEY CITY NJ 099, NJ 07097 because it could not be delivered as addressed. I'm very upset because there were dance dresses for my daughter and she really needs them for coming competition. However, nobody can't help me to send my package directly as addressed. I know my address was writing correctly and I still don't know what's happened. Is here anybody who can tell me why my package can't be delivered to my address?

    May 12, 2016
  • anon

    Hello I had two roommates move out and one also had a son.how do I go about on stopping there mail from coming to my house. I also got another persons mail showing up and they never lived here

    May 12, 2016
  • anon

    I process returned mail for a technical college and we seem to be receiving more returned mail than usual. Is there any way that I can find out why mail is being returned? Most of the mail is returned with a "Return to Sender, Not Deliverable as Addressed, Unable to Forward" yellow sticker. I call the people we are sending mail to and they verify that the address is either their address or a family member's address where they are receiving mail. Is there a resource available, free or otherwise, that I can use to help with this situation? Thanks!

    Apr 19, 2016
  • anon

    I know what could be improved. My mailman to stop driving in my bushes and throwing my packages. :)

    Apr 08, 2016
  • anon

    Sent a letter but forgot to put in last number in zip code. What will happen ? Put a return address label luckily.

    Apr 04, 2016
  • anon

    Sent a card to my daughter. Forgot to put the last numerical in zip code. Will it be sent back to me eventually ?

    Apr 04, 2016
  • anon

    I agree that the USPS is likely the best postal system in the world, but this study was certainly flawed. The letters should have been sent from locations around the world. An addressing infrastructure is very important, but poor countries have to prioritize. Resources spent on addressing might be better used in healthcare or job creation. But the point is well taken that creating an address system needs to be a high priority as well.

    Apr 04, 2016
  • anon

    I receive an inordinate amount of solicitation mail. Can I write "refused....return to sender" and put it back in mailbox? Thanks. Betty

    Nov 03, 2015

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