Where is life best? Traditionally, the answer to this question has mainly been to ask another question: Where is the economy best? But recently economists have started to focus on how people are experiencing life, and everything that goes into making that better or worse, instead of just peering at the latest economic output reports.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's How’s Life? report is one of the most comprehensive efforts. It looks at 11 factors that affect well-being—from income and employment, to work-life balance and personal safety—creating a rounded perspective that goes well beyond GDP. The OECD just released the 2013 edition.
The good news: The U.S. comes off pretty well, comparatively speaking. From 34 countries, it ranks top for housing, income and wealth, and above average for health, "subjective well-being," environmental standards, education, and skills. Work-life balance and "social connections" are the only two criteria where the U.S. is below average. "Compared with other OECD countries, the United States perform[s] very well in many of the 11 dimensions," notes the U.S. "snapshot."
One red flag is that America appears to be headed in the wrong direction. Between 2007 and 2012, the percentage of Americans reporting themselves "very satisfied with their lives" fell from 78% to 67%. "The largest impact of the crisis on people’s well-being have come through lower employment and deteriorating labour market conditions," says the report. But it could have been worse. Life satisfaction levels fell by 20% in Greece, 12% in Spain, and 10% in Italy—all countries hit hard by Europe's economic crisis.
To rank each country across the 11 "dimensions," the OECD examines a range of measures. For example, in the work-life balance category, it includes how many people are working long hours, the percentage of time people give over to personal or leisure pursuits, and the percentage of mothers working. (Work-life balance is the U.S.'s worst category.)
To accompany the report, the OECD has an interactive Better Life Index, which allows readers to compare countries themselves, using any of the 11 criteria. Here are a few charts we came up with, starting with all factors weighted equally:
Where life satisfaction is emphasized:
Here is a comparison for work-life balance:
And here is a chart with education, health, and the environment given maximum importance: