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The 'OECD Better Life Index' Goes Beyond Typical Global Rankings


Every few months (or so it seems), some organization releases a list of the world’s happiest countries. This notion might seem problematic at first — surely there are miserable people living in the most contented nations, and vice versa — but these rankings are usually the product of complex methodology that takes a handful of factors into consideration. That being said, the same countries tend to earn the top spots in all of these polls. Monaco, Luxembourg, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand — we get it, these places are all ‘better’ than anywhere else.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has done its part to shake up the global rankings in recent years. Rather than presenting their list in a linear fashion, the OECD’s official website features an interactive table known as the Better Life Index that allows web users to essentially create their own international ranking based on customized combinations of 11 different variables:

  • Housing

  • Income

  • Jobs

  • Community

  • Education

  • Environment

  • Civic Engagement

  • Health

  • Life Satisfaction

  • Safety

  • Work-Life Balance

Isolating single variables reveal worldwide leaders in certain areas. For instance, Switzerland scored the highest levels of life satisfaction, Australia and New Zealand boast the healthiest citizens, and the United States is far and away the top-ranked country in terms of income. But the really interesting results occur when more than one variable is factored into the equation. In terms of safety, the global leaders are (in order) Japan, Canada, and Poland; but in terms of both safety and environmental causes, the United Kingdom, Iceland, and Norway lead the pack; and when safety, environmental causes, and education were all factored in, Finland was the runaway leader. Thanks to the site’s user-friendly graphic interface, you can mix and match the different evaluators to create a seemingly endless number of different combinations.

Another neat tool on the OECD site allows users to compare findings for men and women across the same vertical; each gender from a given nation is assigned a score between 0 and 10, and the results from all nations are juxtaposed next to one another. When the ‘Jobs’ variable is isolated by gender, the graph reveals Switzerland ranks highest: 9.0 for the men, 7.6 for the women. However, the second-place ranking is disputable: while Luxembourg’s men scored only two points behind the Swiss with 8.8, jobs for women in that country only earned a score of 7.6; meanwhile, jobs in Norway scored an 8.5 and 8.1 for men and women, respectively. In other words, Luxembourg scored higher in terms of jobs exclusively for men, while Norway scored higher in terms of the balance of jobs between men and women.

If there is any downside to the OECD Better Life Index, it is the limited number of countries. The list is limited to the organization’s 34 member states, all but 10 of which are located in Europe. The website states that four more countries — China, India, Indonesia, and South Africa — will be added soon, and hopefully the list will eventually be comprised of all the world’s nations. But until data is collected from more Third World countries, the results will be somewhat skewed.

You can easily spend hours playing around with the OECD Better Life Index, but the real take-away from this tool is simple: there is no ‘happiest’, ‘greatest’, or otherwise superlative-worthy country in any category. We’re all doing something right, and we all have progress to make.


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