OECD Indexes 'Your Better Life' - Are You As Satisfied As They Say You Are?

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photo: Peter Dutton/Creative Commons

I'm a strong proponent of both attempting to use happiness as a measurement of national success and using alternatives to GDP towards the same ends--and it seems the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development is starting to agree with that. Illustrating that there's more to life that money is the OECD's Your Better Life Index and accompanying interactive with all the bells and whistles chart of how the 30-odd OECD countries fare in terms of life satisfaction, community, environment, etc.Rather than just being a happiness index, as many groups have created before, the Better Life Initiative tool allows users to prioritise what they consider important and then see how their nation compares to others in the OECD group (which, admittedly is a narrow slice of the world, really).

Alternately you can just select one trait and max it out to compare different nations on that topic. The size of the petal on the flower-ish icon represents how well the nation performs. Environment, life satisfaction, and work-life balance are below.

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oecd your better life life satisfaction image

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You can also view summaries for each country in the OECD. Doing so for the United States though makes me wonder how some of the stats are gathered as, at least for some measures included in the index, there are serious discrepancies between what the OECD reports and what other groups have and what stats are publicly available via search. Also, some alternate interpretations of some of these are possible.

I haven't gone through each nation or checked each and every stat, but when it comes to the United States a couple red flags get thrown.

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73% of mothers are employed after their children begin school, suggesting that women are able to successfully balance family and career.

The emphasis is OECD's. I have no quibble with the stat but the interpretation seems simple. That stat could just as easily and perhaps more likely mean that the economic situation in the US is such that two incomes are needed to make ends meet and that whether they want to or not mothers have to work while their kids are in school. And that stat alone implies absolutely nothing about how well those women are balancing family and career.

Voter turnout, a measurement of public trust in government and of citizens' participation in the political process, was 90% during recent elections; this figure is also higher than the OECD average of 72%.

That 90% figure seems awfully high to me, based on reports I've seen. In 2008, the same year the OECD draws its stats from, the US Elections Project says presidential voting turnout was about 60%. Perhaps that gets bumped up a bit when you include local elections, but by 30 point? I'd be surprised if that were the case.

Overall, OECD figures suggest that 70% of people in the US are satisfied with their lives.

I really have a hard time reconciling that with recent charts produced by Mother Jones on how overworked America is and how the US leads the world in some categories in which I'd think it'd be better it trail far behind: Not requiring any time off each work week (along with 15 other nations); having no mandated paid annual leave (something which isn't mandated only in Myanmar, Nepal, and six other nations); and having no mandate for paid maternity leave (the US joins Papua New Guinea and four other nations here).

So, TreeHugger readers, are you satisfied or unsatisfied with your lives? How do the OECD states jive with your experience?

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