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How's Life?

Measuring Well-being

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Every person aspires to a good life. But what does “a good or a better life” mean? This report looks at the most important aspects that shape people’s lives and well-being: income, jobs, housing, health, work and 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. The report responds to the needs of citizens for better information on well-being and of policy makers to give a more accurate picture of societal progress.

The report finds that well-being has increased on average over the past fifteen years: people are richer and more likely to be employed; they enjoy better housing conditions and are exposed to lower air pollution; they live longer and are more educated; they are also exposed to fewer crimes. But differences across countries are large. Furthermore, some groups of the population, particularly less educated and low-income people, tend to fare systematically worse in all dimensions of well-being considered in this report: for instance they live shorter lives and report greater health problems; their children obtain worse school results; they participate less in political activities; they can rely on lower social networks in case of needs; they are more exposed to crime and pollution; they tend to be less satisfied with their life as a whole than more educated and higher-income people.

How’s Life? is part of the OECD Better Life Initiative, launched by the Organization on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary. 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 Your Better Life Index ( www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org ), an interactive composite index of well-being that aims at involving citizens in the debate on societal progress.

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Environmental quality

People’s lives are strongly affected by the healthiness of their physical environment. The impact of pollutants, hazardous substances and noise on people’s health is sizeable. Environmental quality also matters intrinsically, as most people value the beauty and healthiness of the place where they live, and care about the degradation of the planet and the depletion of its natural resources. Preserving environmental and natural resources is also one of the most important challenges for ensuring the sustainability of well-being over time. This chapter shows that in OECD countries the concentrations of particulate matters in the air have dropped in the last twenty years, although in many countries they remain above target levels. People in other major economies, in addition to being exposed to high pollutant concentrations, often lack access to basic environmental services such as safe drinking water and sanitation. For the world as a whole, around one-fourth of the total burden of disease, or 13 million premature deaths, could be prevented every year through environmental improvements. Environmental policies have a critical role to play in dealing with global health priorities and in improving people’s lives.

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