New OECD data expose deep well-being divisions


15/11/2017 - New well-being data released today expose deep divisions in our society along fault lines of age, wealth, gender and education.


The OECD’s latest How’s Life? report shows that while some aspects of well-being have improved since 2005, too many people are unable to share the benefits of the modest recovery that is underway in many OECD countries. 


Average annual earnings have risen by a cumulative 7 percent across OECD countries since 2005, but this is roughly half the growth rate observed in the decade prior to 2005. And although average life expectancy has gone up by nearly two years over the past decade and in most OECD countries more people now have jobs than in 2005, other indicators are flashing warning lights.


Job insecurity has risen by a third since it was first measured in 2007. Long term unemployment remains higher than in 2005 while average life satisfaction is slightly lower. Voter turnout has decreased, and the share of people who feel supported by friends and family has fallen by 3 percentage points.



“The latest How’s Life? report provides yet further evidence that the scars of the crisis have not healed. Many people feel that the benefits unleashed by openness and globalisation are not reaching them and their governments are failing to respond to their needs,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “The urgent challenge for policy makers is to find ways to engage effectively with all citizens, work to improve their well-being and help restore their trust. We need to ensure that growth and development are truly inclusive and translate into better lives, without leaving anyone behind” he added. 


The report exposes how our societies are divided by education:

  • Men aged 25 who did not attain upper secondary education live nearly eight years less on average than university educated males. The gap is nearly five years for women,
  • The poorly educated only have half the wealth and earnings of the well-educated; are less likely to vote; to have someone to count on for help when needed; or to feel satisfied with their lives,

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… by income and wealth:

  • A mere 10 percent of households in OECD countries own more than half (52 percent) of all household wealth on average,
  • More than one in three people in 25 OECD countries surveyed are only three months’ income away from falling into poverty,
  • The voter turnout rates among people in the top 20 percent income bracket is 14 percentage points higher than that of those in the lowest 20 percent bracket,


…by age…

  • Despite having higher rates of educational attainment than the generations before them, people under 25 are 60 percent more likely to be unemployed than the 25-54 age group,
  • The under 25s are also 20 percent less likely to vote than those aged over 55, but middle-aged workers are almost twice as likely as those under 25 to work very long hours (50 or more per week)


…by where we were born

  • The median income of migrant households is 25 percent lower on average than that of the native born,
  • Migrants are less likely to report good health, to say they have someone to count on when in need, and to be satisfied with their lives than the native-born,
  • Migrants are more likely to live in inadequate housing, to work anti-social hours and to feel depressed.


The report also highlights the distance between people and the public institutions that serve them. Trust in these institutions has fallen. Only 38 percent of people say they have confidence in their government, a drop of four percentage points since around 2006.


The How’s Life? report shows that only one in three people feel they have an influence over what their government does. And politicians often come from a different background to the people they represent:  for example, a survey of 11 countries[i] finds that manual, agricultural and service workers make up 44 percent of the population but only 13 percent of members of parliament come from this background.


Well-being indicators for the 35 OECD countries as well as Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Lithuania, the Russian Federation and South Africa are available at The link also includes the full How’s Life? report as well as information on the OECD’s Better Life Initiative. This initiative was launched in 2011 to measure well-being and progress beyond traditional metrics such as GDP.  Another component of the Initiative, the Better Life Index, allows users to compare countries according to their own vision of what constitutes well-being.


For further information or additional individual country notes, journalists are invited to contact the OECD Media Division (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00).


[i] The 11 countries included in the worker background sample are Hungary, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Greece and Portugal. The occupations included in the category are: service workers, shop and market sales workers, skilled agricultural and fishery workers, craft related trade workers and plant and machine workers.


Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.






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