Society at a Glance

1999-1290 (online)
1995-3984 (print)
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The OECD biennial report providing internationally comparable data on demography and family characteristics, employment and wealth, mobility and housing, health status, social expenditure, subjective well-being, social cohesion, and other social measures. Included are such interesting variables as suicides, child care costs, prisoners, gender wage gaps, poverty and mothers in employment.

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Society at a Glance 2009

Society at a Glance 2009

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04 May 2009
9789264056879 (PDF) ; 9789264075023 (HTML) ;9789264049383(print)

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Society at a Glance offers a concise quantitative overview of social trends and policies across the OECD. This 2009 edition includes a wide range of information on social issues – such as demography and family characteristics, employment and unemployment, poverty and inequality, social and health care expenditure, and work and life satisfaction –as well as a guide to help readers understand the structure of OECD social indicators. 

In addition to updating some of the indicators from previous editions, Society at a Glance 2009 adds several new and innovative social indicators, including adult height, perceived health status, risky youth behaviour and bullying. For the first time, the report also provides a condensed set of headline social indicators summarising social well-being in OECD countries. In addition, a special chapter examines leisure time across the OECD.

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  • Foreword
    This is the fifth edition of Society at a Glance, the biennial OECD compendium of social indicators. This report attempts to satisfy the growing demand for quantitative evidence on social well-being and its trends. It updates some of the indicators included in the 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006 editions. It adds some new ones, including indicators of height, perceived health status, risky youth behaviour and bullying. In addition, a new set of headline social indicators are developed, providing an overview of social well-being and its trends. This report also includes a guide to help readers in understanding the structure of OECD social indicators, and a special chapter on leisure time across the OECD. More detailed information on all indicators, including those not in this edition, can be found on the OECD web pages (
  • Headline Social Indicators
    In the 1970s and 1980s, social indicators were developed to provide a better tool than conventional market income indicators for the assessment of living and working conditions. Today the various issues of Society at a Glance provide rich information on social conditions in different OECD countries and on the measures taken to improve them. This richness, however, comes at a price. It is difficult for readers to get a concise picture of how social conditions compare across countries and evolve over time from a quick scan of Society at a Glance.
  • Special Focus
    The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s well-being for the direct satisfaction it brings. Additionally, leisure, taken in certain ways, is important for physical and mental health. Leisure also contributes to the well-being of people other than the person directly enjoying leisure. When a person engages in leisure, the benefits gained are shared with others in a multitude of ways, including improvements in personal relationships, family functioning, and in terms of creation of social capital networks (at least from some types of shared leisure). Leisure time patterns across the OECD therefore warrant investigation as an important part of social monitoring.
  • Interpreting OECD Social Indicators

    Society at a Glance 2009 contributes to addressing two questions:

    • Compared with their own past and with other OECD countries, what progress have countries made in their social development?
    • How effective have been the actions of society in furthering social development?

    Addressing the first societal progress question requires indicators covering a broad range of social outcomes across countries and time. As social development requires improvements in health, education, and economic resources, as well as a stable basis for social interactions, indicators have to be found for all these dimensions.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts General context indicators

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    • Net national income per capita
      Net national income (NNI) per capita is the best indicator for comparing economic well-being across countries available in the System of National Accounts (SNA). NNI is defined as gross domestic product (GDP) plus net receipts of wages, salaries and property income from abroad, minus the depreciation of fixed capital assets (dwellings, buildings, machinery, transport equipment and physical infrastructure) through wear and tear and obsolescence. Estimates of NNI per capita, however, are subject to greater uncertainties than those associated to GDP per capita, the most widely used indicator of national income. Uncertainties exist because of difficulties in measuring international income flows and capital depreciation.
    • Fertility rates
      The total fertility rate is the number of children that would be born to each woman at the end of her childbearing years if the likelihood of her giving birth to children at each age was the currently prevailing age-specific fertility rates. It is computed by summing up the age-specific fertility rates defined over five-yearly intervals. Assuming no net migration and unchanged mortality, total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman ("replacement") ensures broad population stability.
    • Migration
      Place of birth and nationality are the two criteria commonly used by OECD countries to define their immigrant population. According to the first criterion, migrants are persons residing in a country but born in another. According to the second criterion, migrants are residents who have a foreign nationality and may include persons born in the host country. Cross-country differences between the size of the foreign-born population and that of the foreign population depend on the rules governing the acquisition of citizenship in each country. In general, the foreign-born population is substantially larger than the foreign population. More information on the origin and characteristics (age, gender, educational level, duration of stay and labour market outcomes) of the immigrant population in OECD countries can be found in the publication A Profile of Immigrant Populations in the 21th Century.
    • Marriage and divorce
      The crude marriage rate is the annual number of new marriages as a population ratio. The crude divorce rate is the annual number of marriages legally ended as a population ratio. Marriage and divorce statistics are based on administrative registers. Marriage rates disregard informal family formation as well as formation of other types of legal unions. Divorce rates miss separation of these unmeasured unions, as well as separation without divorce.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Self-sufficiency indicators

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    • Employment
      A person is employed if working for pay, profit or family gain for at least one hour per week, even if temporarily absent from work because of illness, holidays or industrial disputes. The data from labour force surveys of OECD countries rely on this work definition during a survey reference week. The basic indicator for employment is the proportion of the working-age population aged 15-64 who are employed. These employment rates are presented by age, gender, educational attainment and migrant status.
    • Unemployment
      The unemployment rate is the ratio of people out of work and actively seeking it to the population of working age either in work or actively seeking it (15 to 64-years old). The data are gathered through labour force surveys of member countries. According to the standardised ILO definition used in these surveys, the unemployed are those who did not work for at least one hour in the reference week of the survey but who are currently available for work and who have taken specific steps to seek employment in the four weeks preceding the survey. Thus, for example, people who cannot work because of physical impairment, or who are not actively seeking a job because they have little hope of finding work are not considered as unemployed. This section also presents data on the incidence of long-term unemployment among all unemployed persons. Long-term unemployment is defined in two alternative ways: those who have been unemployed more than six months and those unemployed for more than 12 months.
    • Childcare
      Childcare enrolment among 0-2 year-olds includes enrolment in formal arrangements such as childcare centres, registered child minders, as well as care provided by someone who is not a family member. Enrolment rates for 3-5-year-olds refer to those enrolled in formal pre-school services, and in some countries for 4- and 5-yearolds in primary schools. Data on childcare participation of the 0-2 yearolds comes from various sources, limiting comparability, including OECD Babies and Bosses reviews, the OECD Education database, the Eurydice database, NOSOSCO reviews and National Statistical Offices. Enrolment for 3-5-year-olds is presented using data of the OECD Education database. This information is based upon actual numbers of students participating in formal pre-school programmes and a percentage is calculated by using population data as a denominator.
    • Student performance
      Student performance can be assessed through results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is the most comprehensive international effort to measure the skills of students towards the end of the period of compulsory education. In the latest results, 15-year-old students across the OECD did tests in reading, mathematics and science in 2006 (the United States is not included in the reading test). In PISA comparable tests are administered under independently supervised conditions in order to assess students’ competencies. PISA tests are not tied to specific national curricula. Rather, students apply knowledge to situations they might encounter in the real word, such as planning a route, interpreting the instructions for an electrical appliance, or taking information from a figure. For each subject the average score across OECD countries is 500 for the first time it becomes a major domain in PISA. Thereafter the OECD average reflects the performance of the OECD countries.
    • Not in employment, education or training
      This indicator records those aged 15-19 not in education and not in employment or training as a proportion of the age group population. The only exception to the 15-19-year-old age band is Japan, where the indicator covers youth population aged 15 to 24 years. Education includes both part-time and full-time education, but not nonformal and very short duration education. Data are gathered through labour force surveys and typically refer to the four week preceding the survey. Data may be volatile over time due to sampling error. Rates are reported for the years 1998 to 2006. Data are taken from OECD Education at a Glance 2008.
    • Age of labour force exit
      Retirement is associated with cessation of work and receipt of a pension. Actual retirement ages are difficult to measure directly without internationally comparable longitudinal data, so international comparisons must rely on indirect measures from cross-sectional data. Indirect measures regard persons above a specified age as "retired" if they are not in the labour force at the time of the survey (average age at labour force exit). Net movements into retirement are proxied by the changes over time in the proportion of the older population not in the labour force. This indirect measure is used in ongoing OECD reviews of older workers. It measures the average effective age of retirement. The official age of retirement is also complex to pin down, especially when retirement is based on fixed years of pension contribution. For more discussion, see OECD (2007).
    • Spending on education
      Spending on education as a proportion of net national income (NNI) gives a measure of how much money is invested in human capital (it excludes consideration parental time inputs or on-the-job learning or training) relative to the total flow of monetary resources available to society. The indicator measures both public and private expenditure on educational institutions (including public subsidies) and family spending in so far as it translates into payments to educational institutions. Spending data does not include subsidies for student living costs, student loan subsidies and other direct private spending (for example on text books or transport to school). Nor do they measure spending on pre-school education or childcare, which may have an educational component.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Equity indicators

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    • Income inequality
      Measures of income inequality are based on data on people’s household disposable income. Disposable income is gross household income following deduction of direct taxes and payment of social security contributions. It excludes inkind services provided to households by governments and private entities, consumption taxes, and imputed income flows due to home ownership and other real assets. People are attributed the income of the household to which they belong. Household income is adjusted to take account of household size by assuming a common equivalence scale of 0.5. The main indicator of income distribution used is the Gini coefficient. Values of the Gini coefficient range between 0 in the case of "perfect equality" (each person gets the same income) and 1 in the case of "perfect inequality" (all income goes to the share of the population with the highest income). An inter-decile income ratio, the ratio between the upper limit of the 9th decile and that of the 1st decile, is also used.
    • Poverty
      Avoiding material hardship is a primary objective of social policy, sometimes made explicit though a constitutional right to a decent standard of living. However, perceptions of "a decent standard of living" vary across countries and over time. Hence no commonly agreed measure of poverty across OECD countries exists. As with income inequality, the starting point for poverty measurement is equivalised household disposable income provided by national consultants (see "Definition and measurement" under EQ1. Income inequality). People are classified as poor when their equivalised household income is less than half of the median prevailing in each country. The use of a relative income-threshold means that richer countries have the higher poverty thresholds. Higher poverty thresholds in richer countries capture the notion that avoiding poverty means an ability to access to the goods and services that are regarded as "customary" in any given county.
    • Poverty among children
      Children are defined as poor when they live in households whose equivalised disposable income is less than 50% of the median of a given country (see "Definition and measurement" for EQ1. Income inequality). Children, defined as all those aged under 18, are considered as sharing the income earned by other household members. The basic indicator of child poverty used here in the poverty rate, measured as the share of children with an equivalised income of less than 50% of the median. Also shown are the poverty rates for all people living in households with children (i.e. including adult members).
    • Adequacy of benefits of last resort
      Compared to after-tax incomes from employment, net incomes of benefit recipients measure the financial incentives to take up work for those without a job. When compared to the income cutoff points that are used to identify poor families, they inform about the capacity of benefit systems to ensure an adequate standard of living.
    • Public social spending
      Social support to those in need is provided by a wide range of people and social institutions through a variety of means. Much of this support takes the form of social expenditures, which comprises both financial support (through cash benefits and tax advantages) and "in-kind" provision of goods and services. To be included in social spending, benefits have to address one or more contingencies, such as low-income, oldage, unemployment and disability.
    • Total social spending
      A comprehensive account of the total amount of resources that each OECD country devotes to social support has to account both public and private social expenditures, and the extent to which the tax system affects the effective amount of support provided. To capture the effect of the tax system on gross, before tax social expenditures, account should be taken of the government claw back through the direct taxation of benefit-income and the indirect taxation of the goods and services consumed by benefit recipients. Moreover, governments can pursue social goals via tax breaks for social purposes (e.g. child tax allowances), which tends to make total social spending in excess of gross spending. From a social perspective of society, net after tax social expenditure, from both public and private sources, gives a better indication of the resources committed to social goals.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Health indicators

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    • Life expectancy
      Life expectancy is the most general and best known measure of the health status of the population. It is defined as the average number of years that a person could expect to live if he or she experienced the age-specific mortality rates prevalent in a given country in a particular year. It does not include the effect of any future decline in age-specific mortality rates. Each country calculates its life expectancy according to somewhat varying methodologies. These methodological differences can affect the exact comparability of reported estimates, as different methods can change a country’s measure of life expectancy slightly.
    • Perceived health status
      Most OECD countries conduct regular health interview surveys asking variants of the question "How is your health in general? Very good, good, fair, poor, very poor". Despite the general and subjective nature of this question, indicators of perceived health status have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future health care use and mortality (Miilunpalo et al., 1997).
    • Infant health
      The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines low birth weight as a birth weight below 2 500 grams, irrespective of gestational age. This cut-off is based on epidemiological observations regarding the increased risk of death of the infant. The number of low birth weight births is then expressed as a percentage of total live births. The majority of the data comes from birth registers. However, data for the Netherlands and Turkey comes from a national health interview survey.
    • Obesity
      The most frequently used measure of being overweight or obese is based on the body mass index (BMI). The BMI is defined as weight/height2 (with weight in kilograms and height in metres). Adults with a BMI between 25 and 30 are defined as overweight, and those with a BMI over 30 as obese (WHO, 1997). This classification may not be suitable however for all ethnic groups, and adult thresholds are not suitable for children.
    • Height
      The height data focuses on people aged 20 to 49 years old. Below age 20, height growth may still occur and above age 50 people start physically shrinking. Measured height is preferred over self-reported height as evidence suggests that respondents tend to overestimate their own stature (Gorber et al., 2007). This self-reporting bias varies according to age, sex, education, mode of interview, and purpose of the survey. Data from a recent systematic review suggests that unweighted average over-estimation of height from self reports by general adult male and female populations may be roughly about 1 cm in both cases (Gorber et al., 2007). When height of age cohorts aged 20-24 years old is compared to that of those aged 45-49 years old to examine how recent adult height has been changing, some or all of this measurement error may be removed by the differencing. Where possible, data was obtained directly from specialised official health surveys.
    • Mental health
      The first data set used is from large-scale epidemiological surveys implemented as part of the World Health Organisation World Mental Health Survey Initiative (WMHSI). These surveys were conducted between 2002 and 2005 in ten OECD countries (three more OECD countries have surveys in the field). They use a common diagnostic instrument, the WHO Composite International Diagnostic instrument (CIDI), which measures the occurrence of various types of disorders, their nature and intensity, and the treatment provided.
    • Long-term care recipients
      Long-term care recipients are those receiving formal paid care for an extended period of time due to issues of functional physical or cognitive capacity. Recipients are dependent on help with activities such as bathing, dressing, eating, getting into and out of bed or chair, moving around and using the bathroom. Help is frequently provided in combination with basic medical services. Long-term care can be received in an institution or at home.
    • Health care expenditure
      Total expenditure on health measures the final consumption of health goods and services plus capital investment in health care infrastructure. It includes both public and private spending on personal health care, and collective health services (public health and prevention programmes and administration). Excluded are health-related expenditures such as training, research and environmental health.
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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Social cohesion indicators

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    • Life satisfaction
      The main indicator of life satisfaction used is from the Gallup World Poll 2006. The Gallup World Poll was based on nationally representative samples of people aged 15 years and older. It uses the same questionnaire in all countries, ensuring maximum comparability, although there are issues about the extent to which the English-language concept of "life satisfaction" is translatable into the different languages used across the OECD. However, the problem is less than for happiness-style questions, which is why life-satisfaction questions are used here
    • Work satisfaction
      Measures of work satisfaction are taken from Wave III of the International Social Science Programme. The last Work Orientation wave of ISSP was in 2005. Previous waves were conducted in 1989 and 1997. The survey is addressed to people aged 16 and over working either as an employee or as a self-employed. 21 OECD countries participated in the latest wave of this survey. The survey has high and variable rates of non-response between countries and over time, as well as different country sampling frames, all of which may undermine comparability.
    • Crime victimisation
      Crime comparisons between countries can be made via surveys designed to assess experience with actual criminal victimisation. Crime statistics shown here are based on the 2005 International Crime Victim Survey, run by a consortium coordinated by the United Nations Interregional Criminal Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). ICVS data for European countries are drawn from the European Survey on Crime and Safety, organised by a consortium led by Gallup Europe (see euics_rp.htm for detail). Data drawn on for changes is from a variety of years.
    • Suicides
      Data on suicide rates are based on official registers on causes of death. They are standardised using the OECD population structure of 1980, accounting for changes in the age structure across countries and over time. Suicide rates are expressed in deaths per 100 000 individuals.
    • Bullying
      Bullying includes hitting and teasing, as well as more passive forms such as exclusion from conversations and play. Bullying does not include fighting between equally strong children. The broad definition of bullying does not show which forms are most prevalent in which country, or the duration and intensity of bullying.
    • Risky behaviour
      Risky behaviour refers to actions undertaken by children that are normally considered adult behaviours, and which can negatively affect their lives. Levels of risky behaviour in each country show the extent to which children are receiving suitable guardianship or information regarding age appropriate activities. Risky behaviour indicators include rates and trends of self-reported excessive drinking and regular smoking in early adolescence. As well, risky behaviour includes self-reported rates of early sexual experiences, and non-use of condoms to protect against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
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