As the global economy struggles against mounting national debts and economic woes, 139,900 candidates from 160 countries–9% more than last year–enrolled for the chartered financial analyst exam this month, the CFA Institute announced Wednesday, June 2.

But while the number of CFA candidates is up worldwide, the United States had the poorest showing, increasing at a rate of only 3% compared to top-rated India, which grew at a rate of 39% this year. Still, the United State has more CFA candidates this month than any other country, with 38,200, versus 11,800 from India.

Asia Pacific continues to be the largest source of candidates, accounting for 40% of the total, followed by 37% from the Americas, and 23% from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Asia Pacific, which includes China, India, Korea, and Australia, also led the worldwide growth, with a 12% increase in the number of candidates.

Officials at the CFA Institute, the global association that administers the CFA curriculum and exam programs, said the increase in test takers reflected a commitment among finance professionals to high standards of competency and integrity.

“Investors need trustworthy professionals to manage their wealth,” said CFA Institute President and CEO John Rogers in a statement. “At this time of global economic instability, we believe it is especially important for the investment industry to be led by professionals who put investors’ interests first. Finance markets cannot function effectively without ethical behavior, and transparency and CFA charterholders are integral to this.”

Recognized as the gold standard in the investment industry, the CFA charter involves a rigorous self-study program leading to a three-level exam covering topics including ethical standards, quantitative methods, economics, financial reporting and analysis, investment tools, asset classes, and portfolio management and wealth planning.

The Level I exam is administered in both June and December, while Levels II and III are administered in June only. Surveys of candidates report indicate that they spend an average of about 300 hours preparing for each exam. On average, successful candidates take four years to complete the self-study program and examinations to earn the CFA charter.

Read a story about 2009 CFA enrollment figures from the archives of InvestmentAdvisor.com.