How's Life?

Measuring Well-being

2308-9679 (online)
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Every person aspires to a good life. But what does "a good or a better life" mean? How’s Life?, published every two years,  provides an update on the most important aspects that shape people’s lives and well-being: income, jobs, housing, health, work-life balance, education, social connections, civic engagement and governance, environment, personal security and subjective well-being. It paints a comprehensive picture of well-being in OECD countries and other major economies, by looking at people’s material living conditions and quality of life across the population. Through a wide range of comparable well-being indicators, the report shows that countries perform differently in the various dimensions of well-being. For instance, low-income countries in the OECD area tend to do very well in subjective well-being and work-life balance, while their level of material well-being is much lower than that of other OECD countries. The report responds to the needs of citizens for better information on well-being and the needs of policy makers to give a more accurate picture of societal progress.

How’s Life? is part of the OECD Better Life Initiative, launched by the Organization on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary in 2011. The OECD Better Life Initiative aims to promote "Better Policies for Better Lives", in line with the OECD’s overarching mission. One of the other pillars of the OECD Better Life Initiative is the Better Life Index (, an interactive composite index of well-being that aims at involving citizens in the debate on societal progress.

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How's Life? 2015

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How's Life? 2015

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13 Oct 2015
9789264255296 (EPUB) ; 9789264238176 (PDF) ;9789264211018(print)

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How’s Life? describes the essential ingredients that shape people’s well-being in OECD and partner countries. It includes a wide variety of statistics, capturing both material well-being (such as income, jobs and housing) and the broader quality of people’s lives (such as their health, education, work-life balance, environment, social connections, civic engagement, subjective well-being and safety). The report documents the latest evidence on well-being, as well as changes over time, and the distribution of well-being outcomes among different groups of the population.

This third edition of How’s Life? develops our understanding of well-being in new ways. There is a special focus on child well-being, which finds that not all children are getting a good start in life, and those living in less affluent families face more risks to their well-being. The report introduces new measures to capture some of the natural, human, social and economic resources that play a role in supporting well-being over time. A chapter on volunteering suggests that volunteer work can create a virtuous circle: doing good makes people feel good, and brings a variety of other well-being benefits to both volunteers and to society at large. Finally, the report looks at inequalities in well-being across different regions within countries, demonstrating that where people live can shape their opportunities for living well.

How’s Life? is part of the OECD Better Life Initiative, which features a series of publications on measuring well-being, as well as the Better Life Index, an interactive website that aims to involve citizens in the debate about what a better life means to them.

Also available in French, Spanish
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  • Foreword

    How’s Life? is part of the OECD Better Life Initiative, which aims to promote "better policies for better lives", in line with the OECD’s overarching mission. It is a statistical report released every two years that documents a wide range of well-being outcomes, and how they vary over time, between population groups, and across countries. This assessment is based on a multi-dimensional framework covering 11 dimensions of well-being, and four different types of resources that help to support well-being over time. Each issue also includes special chapters that provide an in-depth look at specific aspects of well-being. The 2015 edition features a focus on child well-being, the role of volunteering in well-being, and measuring well-being at the regional level.

  • Editorial

    The final months of 2015 will be marked by two defining moments that will shape the well-being of generations to come: the agreement on the final set of Sustainable Development Goals at the UN General Assembly in New York, and the COP21 meeting in Paris – an opportunity for global leaders to take action to address the risks of climate change. These events bring into focus the importance of finding new ways to secure and improve well-being here and now, without placing at risk our children’s chances to enjoy well-being later.

  • Reader's guide

    In each figure, data shown for OECD and OECD EU are simple mean averages of the OECD countries displayed in each figure, unless otherwise indicated. Where data are not available for all 34 OECD countries, the number of countries included in the calculation is specified in the figure (e.g., OECD 33). Where changes over time are shown in the figures, the OECD averages refer to only those countries with data available for all time points.

  • Executive summary

    A better understanding of people’s well-being is central to developing better policies for better lives. Well-being is multidimensional, covering aspects of life ranging from civic engagement to housing, from household income to work-life balance, and from skills to health status. A thorough assessment of whether life is getting better requires a wide range of metrics, captured on a human scale, and able to reflect the diverse experiences of people. That is what this report aims to supply.

  • Well-being today and tomorrow

    This chapter draws together the big picture on well-being, outlining the OECD framework for measuring well-being, and including an overview of the detailed findings in . An analysis of well-being strengths and weaknesses finds that every OECD country has room for improvement, and countries with similar levels of GDP per capita can have very different well-being profiles. There can also be large gaps in well-being within countries, for example between younger and older people, between men and women, and between people with different levels of education. Changes in well-being since 2009 suggest a mixed picture, with progress in some countries and on some indicators, but continuing challenges in others. Recent trends relating to natural, human, social and economic capital highlight resources and risks for future well-being. Data from show which dimensions of well-being people prioritise when building their own Better Life Index. Finally, some of the latest advances in the measurement and use of well-being data are described.

  • How's life? in figures

    Measuring what matters for people’s well-being requires wide range of indicators, captured on a human scale, and able to reflect the diverse experiences of different population groups. This chapter documents the latest evidence on current well-being in OECD and partner countries, providing key statistics on 11 different dimensions of life, ranging from people’s material living conditions (such as their income and wealth, jobs and earnings, and housing), through to the factors that affect their quality of life (from their health status, to work-life balance, education and skills, social connections, civic engagement and governance, environment quality, personal security and subjective well-being). Besides providing a snapshot of people’s current levels of well-being, this chapter also examines whether life has been getting better lately. It focuses on the five years since 2009 and reports a very mixed performance – both across indicators and among countries. Differences in the levels of people’s well-being by age, gender, education and income are also described, highlighting how inequalities in well-being outcomes can differ substantially across OECD countries.

  • Resources for future well-being

    Choices and decisions that are made today can have important consequences for well-being tomorrow. To provide a first glimpse of future well-being prospects, this chapter focuses on some of the key resources that are likely to shape well-being outcomes over time. It provides a small set of measures to illustrate elements of the natural, human, social and economic "capital stocks" that exist today, and that provide a store of wealth for later well-being. It also considers some of the risk factors that can have a bearing on those stocks. The indicators range from forest area through to trust in public institutions, and from educational attainment in young adults, to household debt. While there is considerable work to be done to further develop this indicator set, this chapter shows the wide range of evidence that is already available today, and highlights some of the gaps that need to be filled in order to have a more complete dashboard of measures in the future. In the longer term, the goal is to be able to evaluate current well-being outcomes in the context of the resources left for future generations.

  • How's life for children?

    Childhood is a unique period of human development, and a critical phase for preparing future societies to be prosperous and sustainable. This chapter discusses the main measurement issues in child well-being, and then presents evidence of how children fare in 10 aspects of their lives. The analysis shows that a significant number of children live in poverty and in workless households in many OECD countries, and that risk of poverty has increased amid the Great Recession. While risks to health in early infancy are low in most OECD countries, they are substantially higher among adolescents. Most children grow up in a friendly social environment and many of them are socially engaged. However, a non-negligible share of children are at risk of being victimised. Children’s experiences are also extremely diverse across ages, between genders, and according to the socio-economic background of their families. As children grow older, their relationships with schoolmates and parents become more difficult, and their life satisfaction and self-reported health fall. Children from poorer families experience lower well-being than children from richer families in almost all dimensions considered in this chapter.

  • The value of giving

    This chapter analyses the importance and features of volunteer work – i.e. the time devoted to unpaid non-compulsory activities whose concern is the common good – across OECD countries. The evidence shown in this chapter suggests that one in three adults volunteers through an organisation at least once a year. This proportion is potentially higher when informal help to friends, neighbours and strangers is considered. Volunteering produces benefits not only for the beneficiaries but also for the volunteers themselves: volunteering helps people to acquire skills and knowledge that may enhance career development or employment prospects, and is also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and positive moods. Moreover, volunteering is beneficial to society at large and plays an important economic role. The lack of a standard definition and of comparable data makes it difficult to paint a definitive picture of the level and extent of volunteer work in the OECD area; the main steps to be implemented in order to improve the measurement of volunteering are discussed.

  • Going local

    This chapter provides a framework and a set of indicators to assess well-being in OECD sub-national regions. Circumstances in the place where people live are important elements to consider in order to obtain a thorough picture of their well-being, which is shaped by a combination of individual attributes and place characteristics. The indicators presented in this chapter cover nine dimensions of well-being and include aspects of both material conditions and quality of life. The chapter provides evidence on the regional disparities in the different well-being dimensions and includes an assessment of income inequality and poverty within regions. Finally, the main steps to be implemented in order to improve the measurement of well-being at sub-national level in the future are discussed.

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