Measuring Well-Being: Why Health, Gender and Communities Need to be Counted in Surveys

The OECD’s Better Life Index attempts to compare well-being amongst OECD nations using education, housing, environment measures. The Economist has reproduced this graphic, which ranks Australia first, the USA second and Norway third.

On the one hand these types of surveys are useful because they measure social conditions rather than simply material wealth. On the other hand, this particular graphic neglects other socio-economic measures that give a different picture of national well-being.

For example, the Index makes a sweeping statement about gender:

“Taking all 11 topics of the BLI into account, the differences between women and men’s well-being are small. However, there are topics where men do much better than women, such as for instance jobs and earnings. Conversely, women fare better than men in health, education, community and life satisfaction.”

This does not really reflect social science data, which show how men and women’s mental health differs according to marital status, life stage, social network support. The 2012 World Development Report compares low, median and high income nations, noting that men in Australia and the USA are over-represented in violent crimes and incarceration. Moreover, domestic inequalities and social welfare distribution mean that these countries are ranked lower than Scandinavian nations.

OECD Better Life Index. Via The Economist
OECD Better Life Index. Via The Economist

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