Do blondes have more fun? An OECD expert replies

Calibrating the OECD "Society at a Glance" Funometer (TM)

Today’s post is contributed by Maxime Ladaique from the OECD directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs.

I know how hard it is to wait for World Statistics Day on 20 October (20102010, get it?), so today I’m going to tell you about some particularly interesting statistics: in which OECD country people are most satisfied with their life, and why these people are happier.

And if you don’t mind, I’m going to make you work a little bit. I would like you to think of a number from 0 to 10, but not a random number: a number measuring your current level of life satisfaction.

Zero means you’ve got a bad case of the blues. In fact, if you chose 0, I don’t think you should be reading this blog. Maybe you should be with your family, or consulting a doctor.

10 means you couldn’t feel better. I’m not sure there will be any “10s”, unless you are reading us from a beach or a yacht in the Caribbean.

Anyway, this is how US poll company Gallup collects data on levels of life satisfaction in 150 countries around the world – and we use these data at the OECD.

OK – You all have your number ready?

Do you think you feel happier or less happy than other people?

Well, on average across OECD countries, people report a level of life satisfaction of 6.7. People from the UK, Canada, New Zealand or from France report – on average – slightly higher levels than the OECD average, between 7 and 7.5.

Countries with the lowest levels of life satisfaction are some eastern European and Mediterranean countries – Hungary, Slovak Republic and Turkey – at around 5.

And countries with the highest levels are the Nordics. Yes, you know: those blonds!  First Denmark, then Finland – at almost 8!

So what’s their secret? How do the Nordics manage to be satisfied? Is it the cold weather? Is it the pickled herrings? Or do blondes really have more fun?

Not really. I’ll tell you two main reasons.

First, these countries perform quite well economically. They are among the richer OECD countries, and people in richer countries report higher levels of life satisfaction.

But, you ask, what about the United States, one of richest countries: why are Americans not reporting higher levels of life satisfaction on average?

This is because although it’s rich, there is a lot of inequality in the levels of life satisfaction. There are many people reporting high levels of life satisfaction and many reporting low levels.  People tend to feel better, on average, in countries where there is less inequality, such as the Nordics, where governments help the population by redistributing money from the rich to the poor – which could explain why they feel better on average.

Finally, you may also be interested to read that – overall – there is no difference between women and men in reported levels of happiness, but we are happier:

  • as we get older- up to the mid 70s, this is when health problems start getting more serious
  • when we have a job – yes, work is good for you!
  • when we are married
  • when we socialize with other people.

And of we are also happier when we read interesting texts and get more knowledge, as you are hopefully doing right now.

If you felt happy reading this, there’s plenty more where that comes from in Society at a Glance: OECD Social Indicators.

And thank you OECD Insights blog for keeping our level of happiness up!

Useful links:

World Statistics Day at OECD

OECD Social Policy division