With well over a million hits in its first month, the OECD’s Your Better Life Index has proven to be very popular since it was launched at the 50th anniversary OECD Forum on 24 May.
The interactive index lets users from the general public to weigh up the factors (initially from a list of 11) they feel matter most in assessing their quality of lives. They may assign greater importance to, say, life satisfaction than governance, for instance, and can then see how well or badly each OECD country performs against their preferred ratings.
Users can share their own Better Life Index with friends and colleagues. These shared indices feed into a database at the OECD, allowing to build a picture of users’ preferences. The index is not an opinion poll, and it would be unwise to extend its findings to the general population. Nevertheless, it casts a light on the factors people see as being important for improving their lives and how countries perform in meeting those expectations. Though a month old, a few clear trends are already starting to emerge.
First, “life satisfaction” is currently the most highly rated topic for most people, followed by “education” and “health”. At the other end of the scale, “community” and “income” rank among the least important issues, while by far the lowest-ranked topic is “governance”. The reasons behind these rankings are still being investigated, and it remains to be seen how these preferences will change over time. For example, “jobs” ranks halfway as an important factor at the moment, despite the economic crisis and high unemployment. Could it slip back as the job scene improves? That remains to be seen. But there is every possibility that the likes of life satisfaction and health are timeless human priorities and will not shift much. Arguably a more important question for policymakers is which countries perform best, based on these factors?
Among the four countries which generated the highest number of users – the US, France, Italy and Canada – the weights people gave to the various factors were broadly similar, which some may find surprising, considering the apparent lifestyle and societal differences between, say, France and the US. Other countries showed quite different preferences compared with these countries, however, with Estonians for instance putting “safety” as their top ranked topic (see chart).