The Sun has got his hat on, hip-hip-hip hurray!

Woke up this mornin'. Felt Gr8.

In a new report that may force a major rethink of the entire field of well-being studies, researchers have discovered that people are happier at the weekend.

Writing in this week’s edition of Science magazine, Scott A. Golder and Michael W. Macy, sociologists (in case you hadn’t guessed) at Cornell University also claim their results suggest “that people awaken later on weekends”.

They analysed 500 million tweets in English (lol) from 2.4 million people in 84 countries looking for keywords that indicated mood and a positive or negative attitude.

They also found that positive attitudes peak just after getting up and dip a few hours later, weekend or not, so it’s not just because you have to deal with the stresses of getting to work and earning your living. Circadian rhythms are important too.

It’s easy to mock the findings (see above) although maybe the OECD is not best placed to do so. Remember our revelation about men doing less housework and childcare activities than women? (“Gosh, I hadn’t realised” said a mother of three I spoke to).

What’s interesting is the use of social media to explore behaviour and attitudes. There are limits of course. Tweets show what people are expressing, not necessarily what they’re really feeling, and give little or no information on many factors that influence mood such as social situation.

We’re carrying out an experiment here too. Your Better Life Index allows you to construct an index of what matters to you – whether health is relatively more important than wealth for instance. Governments can use the results to see if what they’re doing or proposing actually corresponds to what matters to citizens.

Over half a million people have already visited the site. You can make you own Better Life Index and share it on social media by clicking on the image below.

Useful links

OECD Social Indicators offers a concise overview of quantitative social trends and policies across the OECD. This 2011 edition includes a wide range of information on social issues – such as demography and family characteristics, employment and unemployment, poverty and inequality, social and health care expenditure, and trust and tolerance. 

As well as the original data, you can download special chapters, including one on unpaid work around the world.

OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard: Innovation and Growth in Knowledge Economies

When the Reverend William Whewell invented the term “scientist” in 1834, a natural philosopher could probably have read everything published in his (or very rarely her) field and would have known most if not all of the other researchers. There were only 100 or so scientific journals and even by the turn of the century there were only 10 physics PhDs awarded a year in the US (“physicist” was another of Whewell’s neologisms).

Today, Pubmed alone has 21 million articles, adding an average of one every minute, and as Duncan Hull points out, it concentrates on biomedical literature so a huge number of physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering and computer science papers are indexed elsewhere, perhaps around 50 million in all.

The latest OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard uses an index of how this mass of information is cited to explore trends in where research is being done and what impact it has.

Intuition still plays a role in scientific breakthroughs, and the individual who can see a connection nobody spotted is vital to progress, but the most influential science these days is done within networks, not only of individuals but of institutions, and at international level.

The Scoreboard shows that greater scientific specialisation and cross-border collaboration can result in increased innovation and the broader the collaboration, the higher the impact of the research. Top research remains highly concentrated though, with 40 of the world’s top 50 universities in the US when all disciplines are considered.  On a subject-by-subject basis, the picture is more varied, with the UK playing a leading role in social sciences, and China with 6 of the top 50 in pharmacology, toxicology and pharmaceutics.

Patents are another way of tracking the impact of science. However, the best level of protection is subject to debate. If protection is weak, technology that exploits an innovation will spread more quickly, boosting growth. At the same time, weak protection reduces the incentive to spend money on R&D.

The quality of patents themselves can be a problem. The Scoreboard’s data show that quality has fallen by 20% over the past two decades in nearly all the countries studied. “The rush to protect even minor improvements in products or services is overburdening patent offices. This slows the time to market for true innovations and reduces the potential for breakthrough inventions.”

One of the most striking parts of the industry section of the STI Scoreboard is the relative decline of manufacturing in OECD countries. In 1990 the G7 countries accounted for two-thirds of world manufacturing value added but they now account for less than half. By 2009, China had almost caught up with the US (and may have overtaken it by now).

The good news for OECD countries is that investment in the intangible assets expected to be the new sources of growth, such as education and skills or organisation, is growing.

Are all patents being filed true innovations? Who is leading this global race? Find out more in this video

Setting the bar high for the G20 development agenda

Today’s post is from  Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to address the G20 Working Group on Development and to thank its representatives for the contribution they have made to a new global consensus on development. The Government of Korea deserves much credit for insisting on development as a crucial component of any formula to ensure global economic stability, and for promoting the Seoul Development Consensus—an ambitious effort to place development high on the agenda of the world’s economic powers.

An important upcoming event on this agenda is the High Level Forum in Busan later this year. This will be the fourth in a series of forums convened to look at urgent issues of development flows and their value for money. Earlier forums set forth what are now widely recognized principles of aid effectiveness. The principles were based on an accumulating body of evidence that increased development resources were not necessarily translating into enhanced performance—and a keen awareness that improvement was needed.

While the same concerns are still with us today, the dynamic for the Busan forum is entirely different. While earlier forums were donor-driven, today, developing countries are setting the agenda and are active and essential parties to the process. And they have high expectations from their development partners. They want better cooperation, ownership of their own development agendas, and alignment of resources to their strategies. They are asking for more transparent and more predictable resource flows. And they are looking for measurable results. They want DAC donors to coordinate better with non-DAC providers of assistance, and they want to know how this will be done. Finally, from Busan, they expect an agreement that can be monitored, to make commitments tangible.

As Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and someone who has taken part in the OECD/DAC and followed it since the 1990s, I can testify that among the members of this group, the awareness that we cannot operate in a donor vacuum has grown enormously since the first forum on aid effectiveness. Perhaps the most dramatic reflection of this growth has been the evolution of the OECD/DAC-sponsored Working Party on Aid Effectiveness. Today, half of the members of this forum represent developing countries. Civil society is at the table, as are the multilateral organizations, the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and the regional banks.

Even so, we know that there is still much the DAC needs to do. We know, for example, that we must:

  • be more transparent in all that we do, creating the systems that will give our partners and our own citizens real-time information on our resources and programs;
  • be more predictable about our plans, revealing our forward-spending intentions so that partners can also plan;
  • find better ways to integrate global funds and national needs;
  • reduce the fragmentation that impedes rather than facilitates strategic development goals;
  • come to the assistance of fragile states, who often have less funding than their needs and performance warrant;
  • clarify the role of official development assistance (ODA) to ensure that it supports the emergence of “the developmental state” and leverages other, larger, flows of resources without being captured by special interests;
  • and open our doors and our minds to those who are proud to practice what is broadly called “South-South cooperation”, nations whose standing to assist others is based on their own success in poverty reduction and the affinity that is a natural by-product of a shared experience with poverty.

Busan will be a success if it provides the political impetus to ensure that not only DAC members, but all development players follow through on what we know will produce positive development results.

We are on the verge of a new era of development cooperation. Development cooperation programs can catalyze, help build capacity and fill revenue gaps, but they defer to the ownership of our partners and their own, accountable governments.

The OECD/DAC believes that the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness will continue to be an indispensible vehicle for this new era. We also understand the need to engage the United Nations even more fully. Our operational relationship with UNDP and the UN Development Cooperation Forum are already strong, and they will certainly become even deeper as we sharpen the focus on developing country strategies and results. The DAC also seeks to engage even more fully with other national providers of assistance, with civil society organizations and with the private sector.

We recognize that if Busan outcomes are to be institutionalized internationally they must be monitored objectively. The OECD/DAC’s Development Cooperation Directorate—an entity that has no operational role and no programs that need rationalizing—is well placed to provide this monitoring, as it has done in the past.

One of the important challenges of Busan is to create a post-Busan structure that will engage political leadership at a high level, along the lines of a global development forum bringing together DAC members, emerging economies, leaders from the developing countries, civil society and the private sector. As a ministerial-level body, such an entity could bring more policy coherence to development, recommend ways to leverage ODA to attract private sector investment, monitor compliance with agreements reached in Busan, and act as a political voice for development.

To me, the message is clear: there should be no political obstacles to a meaningful agreement in Busan. An ambitious agreement at Busan will go far in reaching the MDGs, as well as goals set more recently by the G20. It is fundamental to set the bar high. The global challenges that confront G20 leaders—financial, security, food, infrastructure, health, education—cannot be solved without development progress.

 Useful links

 OECD work on aid effectiveness including the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda

China’s spoilt brats and America’s disappearing middle class

She's got her own BMW too

Regular Insights blogger Brian Keeley is in Beijing, from where he sends this dispatch.

A recent afternoon brought one of those classes that all lecturers dread: Glazed eyes from one side of the room to the other, and mouths opening and closing in syncopated yawning. Time to tear up the lesson plan and throw out a question: “Hey, did you see the story about the rich kid who beat up that nice couple?” Dull eyes sharpen, slack jaws tighten. Yes, the students have heard about it and, what’s more, they have something to say.

In case you missed the story, here’s what happened: On a recent evening, a middle-class couple was driving home in Beijing. Quite reasonably, they slowed to take a corner, forcing a couple of cars behind them to stop. Incensed, the drivers of the two following cars got out and beat them up.

Road rage, but that was only the half of it: It turned out that one of the drivers was just 15 years old, which meant he was driving his car – a BMW – illegally. Not only that, he warned onlookers against intervening: “Who dares to call the police?” he supposedly shouted. His cockiness can probably be explained by his family connections: The boy is the son of a celebrity army general, Li Shuangjiang, who shows up regularly on TV to sing patriotic ditties.

In the wake of the incident, Major-General Li was put through the media wringer. He visited his son’s victims in hospital, apologized abjectly, and said of the boy, “I didn’t him give a good upbringing.” As for Li junior, Chinese media reports that he’ll go to a correctional facility for a year, but will escape criminal charges because of his age.

The affair was startlingly reminiscent of another incident last year, when the well-connected son of a senior security officer knocked down and killed a university student. That young man, too, shouted a warning to onlookers: “My father is Li Gang.” His words became a national catchphrase, epitomizing what many Chinese seem to feel is the attitude of an arrogant elite that feels itself above the law. 

Certainly, that was the feeling of most of my students. But there was a second strand of opinion: They felt that media reporting of these incidents, and subsequent online commentary, was sensationalist and served no bigger purpose than stirring up bitterness and resentment. “The media should ask itself, ‘why are we reporting this?’,” said one student. “It should think about the bigger social question, and try to make China better.” That, of course, was one of the traditional role assigned to the media by the Chinese Communist Party. But in today’s China, it’s sensationalism – not worthiness – that sells papers.

As for the “bigger social question,” the student isn’t alone in seeing the incident as symptomatic of more than just Beijing’s awful road manners. Many in China worry about the impact of widening inequality on social stability, even if these concerns are expressed in careful language. But whenever you hear China’s leaders referring to the need for a “harmonious society,” it’s usually inequality that’s being talked about.

China was not the only country that got a reminder last week of the risks of “unharmoniousness”. In the United States, there was fresh evidence of how society there has been reshaped over the past decade or so. The middle class, once the solid core of American life, is being hollowed out, leaving a class structure that’s now shaped more like an hourglass. Indeed, some retailers have reportedly rejigged their product lines to focus on either the top, or the bottom, of the economic pile.

The impact of this social shift goes beyond determining what’s on Walmart’s shelves. As the historian John Gray notes, there’s a real danger in undermining the middle class (a risk first identified by Karl Marx): “In the process of [capitalism’s] creative destruction,” says Gray, “the ladder has been kicked away, and for increasing numbers of people a middle-class existence is no longer even an aspiration.” The result, he argues, is the destruction of “the way of life on which capitalism in the past depended”.

That’s not true of China, or at least not yet. The middle class may be under pressure in many developed countries, but in China it’s growing by leaps and bounds. But as Gray suggests – and as the financial crisis of the past few years has shown – the economic impact of capitalism’s forces are less easy to tame than we might wish. And as recent news from both China and the United States suggests, their effect on our societies can be just as tricky to manage.

Find out more

OECD work on income distribution and poverty

Growing Unequal

Perspectives on Global Development

Chavs, chulitos and the pursuit of happiness

Next time you see her pouting, arms crossed,  brow furrowed as the knot of nasty grows bigger and bigger inside her little tummy because you got her the 16GB version and she’d specifically asked for the 64GB, remember, she’s miserable,  especially if she’s British. Well, according to Unicef anyway, in a study on the role of inequality and materialism in children’s happiness.

Unicef UK commissioned Ipsos Mori and Dr Agnes Nairn to do some qualitative research after the organisation’s Report Card 7 said the UK was the worst place for a child to grow up in of the 21 developed countries covered. They asked Dr Nairn to try to find out what lies behind the statistics and to compare the situation with Spain and Sweden, countries that scored higher.

Researchers interviewed hundreds of children in the three countries, using an approach that’s similar in philosophy to the OECD’s award-winning Better Life Index: they asked the kids what was important for them and what made them happy.

The researchers examined how children perceived inequality and materialism, for example by asking them to imagine that a new pupil had joined their class and point out the different groups in their school and say whether any of these groups were happier than others. Spanish and UK children seem to be the most sensitive to this, distinguishing  rich and poor on the basis of the brands they possess and often using insulting terms like chavs or chulitos for the poorer kids.

The main finding though is that in all three countries what children really, really want is time with their family, good friends and to be able to do things outdoors.

Most children in the countries surveyed agreed you shouldn’t get everything you want, and they had no respect for “spoiled” kids. Moreover, the vast majority of children had high regard for the notions of waiting, saving up for and earning material rewards. Like the 10 year-old Swedish boy who wanted a special toy: “I had to lay out my own clothes for the morning. I had to make my own breakfast as well as giving my mother breakfast in bed… I wasn’t allowed to complain and I had to do this for a month”. (Do try this at home. Better policies for better lives isn’t just an OECD slogan, you know.)

So if kids in the three countries seem to share similar values, why are little Britons unhappier? Children in Sweden and Spain had far more chance of getting time with their parents and playing outside. Speaking on Yougov, Anita Tiessen, deputy director of Unicef UK, blamed the long working hours of British families: “Parents have a much greater pressure in fulfilling the commitment to their children. They try to make up for this by buying their children branded clothes, trainers, technology.”

Given the cost of many of these products, the parents have to work even more to pay for them, and thus find themselves locked into a system of consumption they know is pointless but find hard to resist. This is reflected in how inequality is viewed in the different countries. In Spain, parents who have no time with their children are “the deprived”, while in Sweden a deprived neighbourhood is one where children can’t play outside. In the UK inequality is firmly related to money and consumer goods.

Unicef’s solution for breaking the cycle of compulsive consumerism is threefold: ban adverts that target under-12s (as Sweden has done); raise the minimum wage; and don’t close playgrounds or other facilities for children as part of budget cuts.

I wish them good luck getting that approved in the present climate.

Useful links

Wikichild – the child well-being portal on Wikiprogress

Let the world know what would make your life better. Click on the image to create Your Better Life Index

Busan High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness: An opportunity not to be missed

Today’s post is from  Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee. It is also published in the print edition of Das Luxemburger Wort on the occasion of Les Assises de la coopération luxembourgeoises

According to a recent UN report, $2.5 billion (approximately €1.84 billion) will be needed to respond to the devastating drought and famine that has hit the Horn of Africa. Although the international community is working hard to provide relief, funding is still short and aid is still arriving too slowly. Despite the participation of dozens upon dozens of aid and relief organizations, there is no likelihood that the situation will improve before the end of the year.

In a recent blog, my colleague Stephen Groff, Deputy Director of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, said: “the crisis in the Horn of Africa is indicative of development failure. Early warning systems predicted it a year ago.” Early and coordinated action could have produced countless savings—in terms both of costs and, more important, of human suffering.

We must learn from this situation, because it highlights many of the challenges we face today in an increasingly complex development landscape. Global challenges such as food insecurity, climate change and armed conflict cut across national borders and reinforce the notion that development is a truly global priority. And indeed, the number of organizations and countries working on development is greater than ever before. Yet at the same time, this burgeoning activity—and the broad range of instruments being used to promote diverse outcomes—have brought increased transaction costs, overwhelming developing nations’ capacity to cope.

In 2005, when donor and partner countries agreed on the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, they signed up to a shared set of principles designed to reduce transaction costs, among other measures to improve the quality and impact of aid. The Paris Declaration was groundbreaking not only because of these guidelines, but also because it provided a series of time-bound, action-orientated commitments and targets against which partners agreed to be measured and monitored during the following five years.

Since 2005, these aid effectiveness principles have been embraced by developing countries, civil society organizations, international organizations, and donor countries alike. We have seen the Paris Declaration principles used as the foundation for a wide range of agreements, including the Bogotá Statement on South-South Cooperation (2010) and the Dili Declaration on Fragile States (2010). They have served as global norms for best practice, raised expectation levels from all sides working in development, and helped to focus divergent interests on ambitious but measureable goals.

Ensuring value for the money we spend on aid and development can mean a lot. A recent study funded by the European Commission estimates that a more ambitious application of the Paris Declaration principles and the subsequent Accra Agenda for Action—agreed in 2008 to accelerate implementation on key targets—would have saved the EU and its member states over €5 billion. The direct benefits on the individual donor side would have included reduced administrative costs, more cost-effective sourcing of goods and services, and more predictable and useful aid flows; numerous indirect effects in recipient countries would also have been expected. What’s more, should the EU countries have found the political will to coordinate their allocations of aid to countries, this €5 billion in savings would have more than doubled.

This represents, of course, a huge lost opportunity. And while the evidence gathered in the last round of monitoring of the implementation of the Paris Declaration shows us that we are headed in the right direction, progress is modest and reforms are far too slow in coming. Stronger leadership and sustained political commitment is needed to drive changes in both donor and developing countries. All partners in development must be willing to take ownership of their development agendas and hold each other accountable as they work together toward common goals.

The upcoming Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) in Busan, Korea (29 November-1 December 2011) will offer an opportunity for the international community to renew, refresh and reshape as necessary its commitments to making aid and development work better. The Busan forum is underpinned by developing countries’ demands for effectiveness—and for ownership of their own destinies. It is designed to push the development community to act in a more rational, less fragmented, form.

This is an opportunity not to be missed. With the unprecedented number of people coming to Busan—leaders from donor and developing countries, international organizations, civil society organizations, parliaments and business—we have a chance to forge a truly inclusive and effective partnership around development.

Let’s not make this another story—like the Horn of Africa—of missed opportunity and human tragedy, or the subject of another report on what could have been saved.

Useful links

 OECD work on aid effectiveness including the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda

Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness Busan, Korea, 29 November – 1 December

Salary costs per student

One way to measure education performance is to look at the total cost of teachers’ salaries compared with the number of students being taught. According to the OECD’s Education at a Glance, Luxembourg has the highest salary cost in primary and secondary education, reflecting a combination of relatively high teachers’ salaries and smaller class size. In contrast, in Chile class size is far larger, and teachers’ pay is lower, leading to relatively low overall salary costs in education. (more…)