12/10/2011 - Do you like your job? How’s your health? Are you spending enough time each day with your children? When you need them, are your friends there for you? Can you trust your neighbours? And how satisfied are you, overall, with your life?
A new OECD publication, How’s Life?, looks at these questions and others, offering a comprehensive picture of what makes up people’s lives in 40 countries worldwide. The report assesses 11 specific aspects of life – ranging from income, jobs and housing to health, education and the environment – as part of the OECD’s ongoing effort to devise new measures for assessing well-being that go beyond Gross Domestic Product.
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría launched How’s Life? during an international conference at the OECD commemorating the two-year anniversary of the landmark Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report on the measurement of economic performance and social progress. The landmark report sought to address concerns that standard macroeconomic statistics like GDP failed to give a true account of people’s current and future well-being. The OECD has been addressing the issue of measuring progress since 2000, with its latest work forming the basis of this publication.
“Some may wonder whether it is still opportune to talk about well-being, rather than just focusing on the economic growth needed to get our countries out of this crisis,” Mr. Gurría said. “I strongly believe that today, even more than two years ago, we have to consider a broader picture in our policy making, because a ‘growth as usual’ approach is simply not enough. In the current difficult political context, it is of utmost importance to define core objectives besides level of income, such as improving our citizens’ well-being, ensuring access to opportunities and preserving our social and natural environment.” (read the full speech)
How’s Life? details the wide range of elements that comprise a good life. While income is a prime contributor, there are other factors that matter even more. Well-being is intrinsically linked to good health, a clean environment, a strong sense of community and civic engagement, a home in good shape and a safe neighbourhood.
Government should ensure that most people benefit from these factors, while fighting inequality and poverty, which remain big barriers to well-being for too many. How's life? points out, however that high income alone does not ensure a good life. People in the richest countries are not necessarily the happiest, particularly when they suffer from low levels of social contact, trust in others or low personal safety.
Life satisfaction Cantril ladder, scale from 0 to 10, mean value in 2010
Having a job is an essential element of well-being. Good jobs provide earnings, but also shape personal identity and opportunities for social relationships. Broadly speaking, employment rates in the OECD are relatively low in southern European countries and high in the Nordic countries and Switzerland. Long-term unemployment rates are virtually nil in Korea, Mexico and Norway, while they are almost three times the OECD average in Estonia, the Slovak Republic and Spain. Japanese and Australian workers are most likely to be working part-time, when they’d prefer a full-time job. Chileans and Poles hold the highest number of temporary contracts. Residents of Luxembourg have the highest average gross annual earnings (along with Americans) as well as the strongest perception of job security in Europe, while Czechs, Slovenians, Poles and Hungarians have the highest fears of losing their job. Average long-term unemployment rates are high among women and youth, and the wage gap is growing sharply in many countries.
South Africans and Koreans spend the longest time in daily commutes to and from work, while the Irish, Danish and Swedish have the shortest commutes. Transport time is a key element in work-life balance, an important measure of well-being in the How’s Life study. Less than 30% of European workers are satisfied with their work and life balance. Time crunch is particularly strong for working mothers and the well-being of children is strongly affected by parents’ capacity to both work and spend an adequate time with them.
People in New Zealand and Portugal are among the most social of all nationalities surveyed, with more than 75% reporting at least one social contact with friends or family per week, while people in Poland, France and Hungary report the lowest levels of social interaction. While social connections obviously make people happy, those with extensive and supportive networks also tend to be in better health, live longer and are more likely to be employed.
Very few Finns, Swedes and Danes complain about the green space in their countries, while more than one in three is unsatisfied with the access to green space in Italy and Turkey. Access to green space and a healthy physical environment are fundamental drivers of quality of life.
Norwegians, Finns and Danes are the most politically active, with more than 60 percent saying they had contacted a politician, signed a petition, worked with a pressure group or demonstrated in the past year, while Turks, Portuguese and Russians reported the lowest levels of activism. Civic engagement allows people to contribute to how their societies function.
How’s Life? is part of the OECD’s Better Life Initiative, which was launched in May 2011 following a decade of work on this issue, and is also a first attempt to bring together internationally comparable measures of well-being in line with recommendations in the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report. Another element of the OECD Better Life Initiative is the Your Better Life Index, an interactive tool that allows people to compare countries’ performances according to their own preferences. The BLI seeks to engage citizens in the discussion of what matters most in their lives and what governments should do to improve well-being.
Your Better Life Index has attracted over half a million visitors and over a million web page visits from nearly every country on the planet. The United States, France, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom have generated the highest number of users, but views about the relative importance of the different factors that make up a good life are broadly similar across countries.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz talks about going beyond GDP
BLI users who’ve agreed to share their results consistently put life satisfaction, education and health atop their own indexes. Age does seem to matter, however, with younger people putting greater emphasis on work life balance, income and jobs, whereas older people care more about health and the environment.
The OECD recently launched a feature that allows journalists, bloggers and other users to embed BLI into web sites and blogs. Click here for a short video explaining how the BLI works, and here for the BLI launch video.
For copies of How’s Life or further information, contact Bochra.Kriout@oecd.org of the OECD Media Division (+ 33 1 45 24 14 28).