Julia Stockdale-Otarola, OECD Public Affairs and Communications Directorate
How do you judge your quality of life? What factors matter most to you?
Countries have long focused on GDP as the best proxy to measure well-being. However, governments are increasingly interested in subjective indicators for a more holistic understanding citizen well-being.
The OECD Better Life Index builds on the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission’s Report on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. This report examined how both wealth and social progress can be measured beyond the use of GDP. The interactive Better Life Index tool continues these efforts by examining both material and subjective indicators of well-being.
People are able to express what matters most to them based on the following 11 well-being dimensions: housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance. Participants can then share and compare their answers with people across 38 OECD member and non-member countries in 7 different languages.
Since its launch in 2011, the Better Life Index tool has received responses from more than 110 000 users from some 180 countries and territories. This year, the Better Life Index welcomed the inclusion of well-being data from Latvia and South Africa. The tool now includes all OECD member countries, as well as Brazil and the Russian Federation.
The OECD Better Life Index also provides pages with analysis at the country and dimension level, giving people an opportunity to examine rankings and find examples of “Better Policies for Better Lives”.
An examination of nearly 90 000 responses has found that health, education and life satisfaction are the topics that matter most in OECD countries. Regionally, education is highly valued in Latin America while work-life balance and life-satisfaction are more important to North Americans. Safety is particularly important in the Asia-Pacific. In Europe, health, community and the environment are all priorities.
Age and gender also impact what matters most to people. Men tend to assign more importance to income while women tend to value work-life balance and community. Environment, civic engagement and health gain importance later in the life cycle while life satisfaction and income are prioritised among youth.
To learn more and create your Better Life Index, visit: www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org.
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!
For many young people there is no time like the present when thinking about their life. When we are young we tend to think about how happy we are now and not ponder too much on what our quality of life will be like later. Most people using the OECD Better Life Index are below 65 years-old, and people of working age (20-64 year-olds) make up the largest part of the population, outnumbering the elderly (65+ years) four to one.
But a look into the future gives a very different picture. Life expectancy at birth is already approximately 80 years among OECD countries, a gain of more than 10 years since 1960, and the average fertility rate of 1.74 is below the replacement rate. This means that the population is getting older and it is projected that by 2060 there will be fewer than two people of working age for every one of pension age. So instead of just thinking about how our life is now, we should start thinking about how it will be in the future.
A look at how life is for the elderly of today gives us a mixed picture. OECD Pensions at a Glance 2013 identifies income as a crucial factor in determining how life is going to be in our twilight years. Recently, OECD countries have had some success in this domain, with the average poverty rate among the elderly falling from 15.1% in 2007 to 12.8% in 2010, in spite of increasing poverty rates suffered by the rest of the population due to the crisis. Incomes of people aged 65 years and older in OECD countries reach about 86% of the level of disposable income of the total population. But just as for other issues, there is a gender gap among the elderly. As women live longer, they are more likely to end up living alone on a low income in their old age, and are therefore more at risk of poverty.
Our health and social support networks (friends and family) are other important measures that affect our well-being later on in life. Not surprisingly, the elderly are among the least satisfied with their health. But they are also the least likely hang out with friends, with 20% of people aged 65 and over reporting no contact with friends. Access to public services is particularly important for our older people, as they need more care than the rest of the population.
With spending on long-term care sometimes exceeding 60% of disposable income, we have to find new ways to sustain ourselves in old age. In some cases this has led to some rather drastic solutions. In Switzerland, the prices for care are so high (between USD 5 000 and USD 10 000 a month), some families have resorted to the rather controversial solution of exporting Grandma and Grandpa abroad to more affordable retirement homes as far away as Thailand. Coincidentally, Switzerland also has one of the highest old-age income poverty rates (22%) in the OECD. In Korea, where the population is ageing rapidly, families have come up with a less extreme alternative. They have managed to work around the strains of taking care of their older relatives by using the new Ubiquitous Health House system (uHouse) that relies on Internet technology to monitor their loved one’s health. This allows families and the elderly to maintain privacy and independence while facilitating family care, and is designed to substitute for hospital service.
So as an ageing population and the effects of the crisis continue to put pressure on pensions and the quality of life of the elderly, we should all be asking ourselves, how life will be when we are older?
How’s life in your neighbourhood? Do you take reviving lungfuls of clean fresh air when you step outside your front door, or struggle to peer through a miasma of polluted particles? Is it easy to find a job or is unemployment higher than in neighbouring areas? When it comes to measuring wellbeing, national figures are all very well, but they cannot tell you what it’s like to live in a particular region or city.
Our day-to-day experience is essentially local – how easy is it to find a job, is there good Internet access and how clean is the air? And how can you find out these things about a new area?
The OECD’s Regional Wellbeing tool enables you to do just that. It compares wellbeing indicators for 362 OECD regions in eight topics – income, jobs, health, access to services, environment, education, safety, and civic engagement. A score has been calculated for each topic and you can compare your region with other regions in your own country, or with regions in other countries. So you can discover, for instance, that northeast England and Utah have a similar wellbeing level, or that life in Nunavut in Canada is similar to that in Chihuahua, Mexico, at least from a wellbeing standpoint.
But why should we care about regional wellbeing? For one thing, metropolitan areas are a major source of economic growth. More than 50% of economic growth and job creation in the OECD area occurs in the 275 metropolitan regions (each with a population of more than 500,000). But now in almost half (45%) of these metropolitan areas unemployment is higher than for the national economy. Once you know that a disproportionately high share of national unemployment is concentrated in a limited number of regions, and which ones they are, you can start to look at regional policies that can help. Does the workforce in the region have a good level of education? The regional wellbeing tool can tell you what proportion of the population has at least completed high school. In Korea the capital region scores highest on a national comparison, and in the top 28% among OECD regions.
If health is what matters to you most, then perhaps your region should take a leaf out of the Ile-de-France’s book. The area round the French capital is the top area in France in health, and in the top 1% among OECD regions.
The new regional tool follows many of the topics already covered at national level in the OECD Better Life Index, and brings wellbeing measures down to a more local level. So, how’s life in your region?
In a phrase that has become immortal in football mythology, one of the greatest managers in the history of “O Jogo Bonito” (the beautiful game as Brazilians call it), a Scotsman named Bill Shankly of Liverpool FC, encapsulated its importance for football obsessives the world over: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death… I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Few of us would go that far, but hundreds of millions of people will join in the four-yearly global communion about to begin in Brazil, the spiritual home of “O Jogo Bonito” through whatever means of communication at their disposal all the way through to its climax in mid-July. Football, and sport generally, is hugely important to people’s lives from all sorts of perspectives: whether it is those who derive enjoyment through playing or watching, those who are involved in the enormous economic activity that it generates, or society at large that is heavily influenced by it from the way some people dress to how they speak, the music they listen to and the role models they follow.
As the world prepares for its 4-yearly bout of Football Fever, it’s important to spare a thought for what happens when the final whistle blows, the game is over and the crowds go home. At the OECD, we’ve looked at “the day after”, the legacy of organising big sporting events. In 2010, before the London 2012 Olympics, we produced a review of the possible Olympic and Paralympic legacy for London, arguing that big events can make a positive, lasting contribution to their hosts if they build on strengths that are already there, you don’t have to start from scratch. In London’s case, we said that “it will be important to tell the story of east London’s inhabitants very much better. The area has a rich history as a centre for trade, logistics, and production, for hardworking people of exceptional character, for immigration and asylum… and for making lives worth living in ways they would not have been lived otherwise.”
That last part about making lives worth living in ways they would not have been lived otherwise is the core of the argument. Our Brazilian partner, the Fundacao Getulio Vargas have undertaken analysis on the impact of Football for the Socio-Economic Development of Brazil (FGV Projetos Cadernos 6/13 no22). Like the Olympics, staging the World Cup is expensive. Brazil will have spent BRL26 billion ($11 billion) on football stadiums and airport, port and urban mobility upgrades for the competition. But this accounts for only 0.7% of overall planned investment in Brazil in 2010-14 and most of the impact has already been felt, while for host cities and states, official estimates of World Cup-related spending range from just 0.24% to 12.75% of expected 2014 fiscal revenues.
Even so, 11 billion dollars is a huge sum of money, and millions of Brazilians who have emerged from poverty in recent years may think excessive to spend that much on football. With a growing lower middle class that pays taxes, demand for better education, health and transport is only going to increase. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, over 60% of the population think hosting the event is a bad thing for the country because it takes money away from schools, health care and other public services. Only 34% think the World Cup will create more jobs and help the economy. A similar number (35%) thought hosting the competition would help Brazil’s international image, compared with 39% who said it will hurt and 23% thought it wouldn’t make any difference one way or the other.
The question of what makes life worth living, how best to balance competing interests, capacities and objectives is one that governments are trying to answer all the time. The OECD’s stated aim is to help develop “Better Policies for Better Lives”, but we know that, like football fans debating the greatest team of all time (Brazil 1970? Real Madrid 1960?) there’s no definitive answer. Therefore it is important to give citizens, voters and taxpayers the information and the voice to empower them to communicate to policymakers and shapers all over the world, their opinion about what counts for them.
To do so, we are launching O Indice para Uma Vida Melhor, the Portuguese version of the OECD’s Better Life Index on 9 June with football legend Pelé, Brazil’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo and our partners for O Indice the Fundacao Getulio Vargas. The Index is an online instrument that enables citizens the world over to create their Index of well-being and quality of life according to what is important to them. Users of the Index are asked to attribute relative importance to 11 topics that contribute to well-being to generate their Index. These include not only material aspects such as income, jobs and housing, but also quality of life aspects such as sense of community, education, environment, governance, health, safety, work-life balance and, last but not least, life satisfaction or a sense of happiness. Currently the Index captures data for 36 countries worldwide and this number is set to increase over time. An overall description of the quality of life in each of these countries is also provided, including how it performs across each of the 11 well-being dimensions. Freely-accessible OECD reports and other sources of information are provided to empower users.
Since the launch of the first English version, more than 4 million people in 184 countries have used the OECD Better Life Index, which has been referenced internationally as a model for presenting material on measuring well-being. Portuguese will be the sixth language version enabling over 250 million more people to access the Index in their mother tongue as is currently the case for English, Spanish, French, German and Russian speakers.
A completely new feature we are also unveiling now reveals for the first time what more than 65,000 people around the world believe to be the most important factors for quality of life based on the Indexes they have completed and shared with us in the last 3 years. This living database (www.OECDBetterLifeIndex.org/responses), viewable via an interactive map, allows people everywhere to see what matters to users of the Index. For citizens, the Index provides a way to be better informed about policies that that impact their well-being whilst for policymakers and shapers it begins to give a sense of what is most important to the people they work for which should help them improve their performance amd increase citizens’ satisfaction and engagement.
We have chosen the World Cup in Brazil as the ideal moment to launch an online global multilingual campaign “Is there #more2life than football?” to raise awareness not just in Brazil but across the globe on what really matters to people in their daily lives, what constitutes well-being and quality of life in the 21st Century.
For Matias Deodato de Castro e Melo, a character in one of the great Brazilian writer Machado de Assis’ Historias sem data (Stories without a date), “a felicidade é um par de botas” – happiness is a pair of boots. Whatever your team, we hope their boots will bring you some happiness over the coming weeks. Whatever happens to those teams and fans, whether they win or lose, after “O Jogo Bonito” it’s time to build “A Vida Bonita.
Today we publish the last article of a summer series in which Kimberley Botwright of the OECD Public Affairs and Communications Directorate looks at OECD work through a Shakespearean lens.
Twelve years before the start of The Tempest, Prospero the Duke of Milan, was usurped by his brother Antonio, with the help of Alonso, King of Naples. Prospero was exiled to an island, with his three-year old daughter Miranda, where he reigns over the spirit Ariel and native resident Caliban, using his magic powers and books. The play opens with a storm conjured by Prospero; designed to shipwreck Antonio and Alonso on his island. After conjuring the storm, Prospero reminds his daughter; “I have done nothing but in care of thee, / Of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter.” Over the years, the play has taken on post-colonial readings; but it’s also a story about a father trying to secure a better future for his daughter.
Securing a better life for our children, family, society and friends is something some of us might also worry about. The OECD certainly does, judging by its slogan – Better policies for better lives. But what do we mean by better? It’s probably got a lot to do with wellbeing, but how do we measure that? Surely that touches on something too difficult to define, or as Miranda says; “’Tis far off / And rather like a dream than an assurance.”
Fortunately, as part of the OECD Better Life Initiative, (you’ve probably heard about this one), the OECD How’s Life? Measuring Well-Being report presents the first international set of comparable well-being indicators. Better still, the OECD offers an interactive tool called Your Better Life Index where you can rank the 11 different dimensions of wellbeing discussed in the report according your own personal priorities, allowing you to contribute your voice to the wellbeing debate, not only in English, but also in Spanish, French and Russian.
What would Prospero’s index be? Well, he’d probably give housing a 3/5; exiled on his island he is merely “Prospero, master of a full poor cell,” and laments the loss of his dukedom. But the reason Antonio was able to usurp him was because of his keen interest in studying, “Me, poor man, my library / Was dukedom large enough,” and indeed much of the play revolves around Prospero’s magical “art.” He also stresses his efforts to tutor his daughter, so education would probably rank pretty high, around 5/5.
Given that Prospero almost lost his life before being exiled, uncovers a drunken plot by his slave Caliban, prevents the murder of the faithful servant Gonzalo, and is wary of Miranda being assaulted by either Caliban or Ferdinand, safety would also receive 5/5. Income would be important, around a 4/5, because the spirits of his imagination seek to bless his daughter’s marriage with “honours and riches.”
His control over the spirit Ariel, as well as the elements around the island, “I have bedimm’d / The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,” suggests that the environment serves a useful short-term purpose, but he probably doesn’t value it as much in the long-run, so it would be given a 3/5. Jobs would get also get a 3/5, seeing as he’s keen on making all those in his power work (Caliban, Ariel and Ferdinand), but he’s not so much in tune with job security or earnings distribution.
Lower down on his list of priorities would be life-satisfaction, 2/5; he cannot express the same joy as the young lovers, “so glad of this as they I cannot be.” As he spends most of his time orchestrating the plot of the play in order to seek justice for his exile, his work-life balance would be 0/5. Being a recluse megalomaniac, civic engagement would also receive a zero ratings, whilst community would be low – although he seems to get some enjoyment from his small island subjects, so it would receive 1/5. He never really mentions health and is eager for peace in death by the end of the play, “Every third thought shall be my grave”, and so it would also get 0/5.
An interesting part of the BLI Index allows you to compare your priorities with individuals like you in age, gender and nationality. Compared to his fellow Italian males aged 55-64, Prospero’s priorities are close to the average in housing, jobs, education, environment and income, but way off in health, civic engagement and work-life balance. Given his arrangement of priorities, he’d be best off moving to the United States or Switzerland.
Overall, the OECD Better Life Initiative joins an international trend to look “Beyond GDP” as an indicator of wellbeing, into all those dimensions that put life behind the figures. Just as Miranda says to her newfound friend Ferdinand, “Be of comfort: / My father’s of a better nature, sir, / Than he appears by speech,” so we also have much to learn when we use new indicators to examine wellbeing from fresh perspectives.
Towards the end of the play the spirit Ariel reminds Prospero of what it means to be human. Having witnessed the punishment inflicted on Antonio and Alonso, Ariel assures Prospero his heart would be moved if he saw their suffering, “Mine would, sir, were I human.” Prospero, stunned that a spirit has more feeling than him, also sees life from a new perspective. With his daughter happily married to Prince Ferdinand, he turns from revenge to reconciliation, offering his hand in friendship to Alonso, “First noble friend / Let me embrace thine age, whose honour cannot be measured or confined.”
Today, we’re having a good go at measuring the un-measurable; “O brave new world!” So for now, we’ll leave Prospero and Shakespeare, as they bid us farewell –
“But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please.”
Here’s Prospero’s BLI. Create your own at this link