Going beyond GDP – the OECD’s Better Life Index
To mark the launch of the OECD Better Life Index in Italian to coincide with Expo Milano 2015, today’s post is by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General
Too often GDP is used as the single metric to assess individual and societal progress. But GDP does not reflect well the daily life being experienced by people. The OECD Better Life Index (BLI) addresses this issue by providing comparative information across 36 countries in 11 dimensions that are essential for people’s well-being: housing, income and wealth, jobs and earnings, education and skills, environmental quality, civic engagement, health, subjective well-being, social connections, work-life balance and personal security.
So, how does Italy perform compared to other OECD countries in these areas? Italians generally enjoy a relatively high income and a good work-life balance. Italy also does rather well in health: Italian women enjoy among the longest life expectancy in the 34-country OECD, and over 60% of Italians report being satisfied with their health. Civic engagement is also high. This is highlighted by the large share of the Italian population that votes in national elections – 75% participated in the most recent parliamentary elections, above the 68% average in the OECD.
The picture is less rosy when it comes to education and jobs: less than 60% of the working-age population has a secondary degree, compared with an average of 70% in the OECD. Similarly, the learning skills of Italian 15-year-olds are below the OECD average. Slightly more than one person in two is working, against two in three in the OECD, and the long-term unemployment rate is among the highest in the OECD area.
On a more positive note, graduation rates are increasing across generations, as are youth learning skills. This bodes well for the future.
What of well-being differences across Italian regions? Our work on regional well-being shows that there are large disparities in material living conditions, as measured for instance by job opportunities and income. These are mirrored by large differences in safety between regions. However, there are areas such as housing conditions, accessibility of services, and health where we see that the regional divide is actually smaller than in other countries. It is also interesting to see that quality of life is not always greater in the north of Italy, as the conventional wisdom would assume, but that it can be really high in the rest of the country. For instance, Lazio ranks first on education and Sardinia is at the top on environment.
Improving quality of life must be a central goal of public policies. The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Italy highlighted the importance of sustaining the ambitious programmes of institutional and structural reforms launched by the Government. This will enhance Italian productivity and improve labour markets that are both key to material well-being. In addition, improving the efficiency of public administration and the quality of public services delivered to people are key to increasing trust in institutions and therefore to enhancing people’s well-being.
The OECD’s Better Life Index is an online interactive platform that can also help bridge the gap between what people care about most and their priorities for governments. The Better Life Index empowers people to create their own summary measure of well-being, based on the importance they give to the 11 well-being topics. Consequently, the Index helps us understand what aspects of life are important to people.
Since we launched the Index in 2011, over six million people from just about every country in the world have tried it out, and around 92,000 of them have created and shared their indexes with the OECD.
The findings show that rather than striving to be “healthy, wealthy and wise,” as the English saying goes, we would rather be “healthy, happy and wise”! Health, life satisfaction and education are the leading priorities for people in all countries, followed closely by work-life balance. Income is currently ranked only 9 out of the 11 indicators covered.
This is also somewhat true for the 3600 Italians who have shared their indexes with us. And Italian users tend to give a greater importance to the environment and to civic engagement than users in other countries. To better understand how Italians view these issues, we want and need more participation, more voices: your voices. We are starting to get a picture of what are some of the key factors for well-being. But we need greater engagement. By making this instrument available in Italian, we will encourage more Italians of all ages to share what is most important to them with us.
We are launching the Italian version of the Better Life Index to coincide with EXPO Milano, where the OECD is an official partner. Its theme – “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” – combines key elements of our vision of well-being. Food security is necessary to eradicate hunger and improve nutrition. It is central to our state of health, to our economy, but also to our culture, as it provides the opportunity to share and socialise with family and friends. How food is produced affects our relationship with the natural environment. Understanding how natural resources should be best managed – to ensure the current and future well-being of this planet – is and has always been at the heart of the OECD’s mission.
Join us in this effort by completing and sharing your Index and helping us ensure that better policies do indeed make for better lives!