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OECD report measures human cost of crisis; underlines need to invest in well-being


5/11/2013 - The global economic crisis has had a profound impact on people’s well-being, reaching far beyond the loss of jobs and income, and affecting citizens’ satisfaction with their lives and their trust in governments, according to a new OECD report.


How’s Life? finds that subjective well-being deteriorated in countries most affected by the crisis. Between 2007 and 2012, reported average life satisfaction declined by more than 20% in Greece, 12% in Spain, and 10% in Italy. However, moderate increases were recorded in Germany, Israel, Russia, Mexico and Sweden.


The report also finds that citizens in the hardest-hit euro area countries have lost trust in their governments and institutions. The percentage of people in these countries claiming to trust national government fell by 10 percentage points in the five years leading to 2012. In the OECD countries as a whole, less than half of those surveyed said they trusted their governments - the lowest level recorded since 2006.


“This report is a wake-up call to us all,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “It is a reminder that the central purpose of economic policies is to improve people’s lives. We need to rethink how to place people’s needs at the heart of policy-making”. 


By measuring well-being - material living conditions and quality of life in OECD countries and other major economies, How’s Life? provides a unique glimpse into the human cost of the crisis. It also confirms that the full consequences of the economic downturn, in terms of people’s health or loss of skills will take time to play out.

Work has a major influence on well-being, says the report. Achieving the right balance between requirements and opportunities drives people’s commitment at work, and is key to strengthening their capacity to cope with demanding jobs. In Europe, 50% of persons who face poor work organisation and workplace relationships report that their job impairs their health, compared with only 15% among those experiencing favourable conditions. With appropriate resources and support, even highly demanding jobs can be fulfilling. But without them, the accumulation of stress factors in the workplace frequently leads to health problems.



well-being in OECD countries

See note below.

The data also show that the gender gap in favour of men has narrowed, but has not disappeared. Women still generally fall behind in terms of income, but measuring well-being based on gender reveals a more complex picture. Girls are now generally doing better than boys in school, although still remain under-represented in fields that provide greater job opportunities.


The report finds that new forms of solidarity have emerged during the crisis. Personal and informal networks have strengthened, and a higher proportion of people are volunteering to help those in need. Families have been a source of support, both financial and in-kind, and have provided an increasingly important safety net.


The How’s Life?  report is part of the OECD Better Life Initiative 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.


To request a copy of How’s Life?, journalists are invited to contact the OECD’s Media Division (tel: + 33 1 4524 9700). For further information, please contact Stephen Di Biasio in the OECD’s Media Division (tel: + 331 4524 8103) or Romina Boarini in the OECD’s Statistics Directorate (tel. +33 1 45 24 92 91).


Country highlights and further information of How’s Life? 2013 are available at

Read the book online


OECD average includes only countries for which a complete time series is available: Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Selected countries of the OECD Euro area are those for which complete time series are available: France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Cantril ladder - Respondents are asked to position themselves on a zero–to-10 scale, 10 being the best possible life for them and zero the worst.  


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