copy the linklink copied!8. Subjective Well-being

Subjective Well-being is about good mental states, and how people experience their lives. Average life satisfaction (measured on a 0-10 scale) ranges from below 6 to above 8 across OECD countries. Between 2013 and 2018, average levels of life satisfaction increased slightly, from 7.2 to 7.4 (based on data from 27 OECD countries). Nevertheless, a sizeable share of the population (around 7% on average) still report very low levels of life satisfaction, and around 1 in 8 people experience more negative than positive feelings in a typical day. Average life satisfaction is very similar for men and women, but in close to half of OECD countries the share of women reporting more negative than positive feelings is higher than the share of men. There are age- and education-related inequalities in Subjective Well-being, and countries with larger inequalities tend to also experience lower average scores.

    
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Figure 8.1. Subjective Well-being snapshot: Current levels and direction of change since 2010
Figure 8.1. Subjective Well-being snapshot: Current levels and direction of change since 2010

Note: The snapshot depicts data for 2018, or the latest available year, for each indicator. The colour of the circle indicates the direction of change, relative to 2010, or the closest available year: improvement is shown in blue, deterioration in orange, and no clear or consistent change in grey, and insufficient time series to determine trends in white. For each indicator, the OECD country with the lowest (on the left) and highest (on the right) well-being level are labelled, along with the OECD average. For full details of the methodology, see the Reader’s Guide.

Source: OECD and national statistical office calculations, based on the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) (database), https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database; the Australian General Social Survey; the Canadian Community Health Survey; Colombia's National Quality of Life Survey; the Korean Social Integration Survey; the Mexican National Survey of Household Expenditure (Socioeconomic Conditions Module); the New Zealand General Social Survey; and the Gallup World Poll (database), https://gallup.com/analytics/232838/world-poll.aspx.

copy the linklink copied!Life satisfaction

When people are asked to rate their lives on a scale from 0 (not at all satisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied), average evaluations across OECD countries range from below 6.5 in Turkey, Korea, Lithuania and Greece to above 8 in Canada, Ireland, Finland and Colombia (Figure 8.2). Since 2013, life satisfaction has either remained stable or increased in most of the 27 OECD countries with available data, and the OECD average rose from 7.2 to 7.4. Ten countries (Ireland, Portugal, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Korea, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Italy and Slovenia) experienced life satisfaction gains of 5% or more between 2013 and 2018. The largest falls in life satisfaction occurred in Lithuania (-5%) and Denmark (-3%).

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Figure 8.2. OECD average life satisfaction has increased slightly since 2013
Mean values for life satisfaction, reported on a scale from 0 “not at all” to 10 “completely” satisfied
Figure 8.2. OECD average life satisfaction has increased slightly since 2013

Note: The latest available year refers to 2014 for Australia and Mexico and to 2013 for Iceland and Turkey. The earliest available year refers to 2014 for New Zealand. The OECD average excludes Chile, Israel, Japan and the United States, due to a lack of available data; Korea, due to methodological differences; and Australia, Colombia, Iceland, Mexico and Turkey, as only one observation is available. Data refer to the population aged 19-69 in Korea; 18 and older in Mexico; 15 and older in Australia, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand; and 16 and older in all other cases. Data for Korea (shown in grey) have limited comparability due to the age range considered and the response format used (see Box 8.1). 2018 data for Ireland and the United Kingdom are provisional.

Source: OECD and national statistical office calculations, based on the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) (database), https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database; the Australian General Social Survey; the Canadian Community Health Survey; Colombia's National Quality of Life Survey; the Korean Social Integration Survey; the Mexican National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure (Socioeconomic Conditions Module) and New Zealand General Social Survey.

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Very low levels of life satisfaction (a score of 4 or lower out of 10) are reported by 6.7% of the population in OECD countries on average (Figure 8.3). This share ranges from more than 12.5% in Lithuania, Hungary, Greece and Portugal to fewer than 3% in Finland, Canada, Austria and Colombia. The incidence of very low life satisfaction has fallen by 1.6 percentage points, on average, since 2013, from 8.3% to 6.7% in the 25 OECD countries with available data. Generally, the OECD countries experiencing the largest falls in the share of people reporting low life satisfaction had comparatively high deprivation levels in 2013. Conversely, a small number of countries (Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark) that began with low deprivation rates in 2013, and have high average scores overall, saw a rise in deprivation rates of more than 1 percentage point. In Lithuania, deprivation rates were high in 2013 and had climbed further by 2018.

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Figure 8.3. Across OECD countries the share of people reporting very low life satisfaction has fallen by 1.6 percentage points since 2013
Share of the population rating their life satisfaction as 4 or lower (on a 0-10 scale), percentage
Figure 8.3. Across OECD countries the share of people reporting very low life satisfaction has fallen by 1.6 percentage points since 2013

Note: The latest available year is 2014 for Australia and Mexico, and 2013 for Iceland, Ireland, and the Slovak Republic. The earliest available year is 2014 for New Zealand. The OECD average excludes Chile, Israel, Japan, Turkey and the United States, due to a lack of available data; Korea, due to methodological differences in the data collection; and Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Ireland, Iceland, and the Slovak Republic as only one observation is available. Data refer to the population aged 19-69 in Korea; 18 and older in Mexico; 15 and older in Australia, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand; and 16 and older in all other cases. Data for Korea (shown in grey) have limited comparability due to the age range considered and the response format used (see Box 8.1).

Source: OECD and national statistical office calculations, based on the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) (database), https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database; the Australian General Social Survey; the Canadian Community Health Survey; Colombia's National Quality of Life Survey; the Korean Social Integration Survey; the Mexican National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure (Socioeconomic Conditions Module) and New Zealand General Social Survey.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934081739

The overall dispersion (i.e. “vertical inequality”) of life satisfaction varies substantially across OECD countries. In Lithuania, Portugal, Greece, Hungary and the Slovak Republic, average scores for people in the top 20% of the distribution are at least 2.5 times higher than the average scores for those in the bottom 20% (Figure 8.4). By contrast, the most equal distributions are observed in Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Colombia, Switzerland and Austria, where average scores for the top 20% are around 1.5-1.8 times higher than the average scores for the bottom 20%.

Consistent with the picture for deprivation (Figure 8.3), the data overall indicate that OECD countries faring better on average levels of life satisfaction tend to have narrower gaps between population groups, while countries with lower average levels tend to experience larger inequalities. In addition, the gap between the top 20% and bottom 20% has narrowed since 2013 for several OECD countries. The most sizeable reductions in inequality have occurred in Greece, Portugal, Korea and Hungary. Nevertheless, the gap between the top and bottom has widened in Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden since 2013 – and in all cases this was due to a fall in the average score for the bottom 20%, rather than an increase among the top 20%.

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Figure 8.4. In the most unequal OECD countries, people in the top 20% of the distribution have average life satisfaction scores more than 2.5 times higher than those in the bottom 20%
S80/S20 ratio of life satisfaction
Figure 8.4. In the most unequal OECD countries, people in the top 20% of the distribution have average life satisfaction scores more than 2.5 times higher than those in the bottom 20%

Note: The S80/S20 ratio is a measure of dispersion or “vertical inequality”; it is calculated by dividing the average score for the top 20% of the overall distribution of life satisfaction by the average score for the bottom 20%. The latest available year is 2014 for Australia and Mexico, and 2013 for Iceland, Ireland, and the Slovak Republic. The earliest available year is 2014 for New Zealand. The OECD average excludes Chile, Israel, Japan, Turkey and the United States, due to a lack of available data; Korea, due to methodological differences in the data collection; and Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Ireland, Iceland, and the Slovak Republic as only one observation is available. Data refer to the population aged 19-69 in Korea; 18 and older in Mexico; 15 and older in Australia, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand; and 16 and older in all other cases. Data for Korea (shown in grey) have limited comparability due to the age range considered and the response format used (see Box 8.1).

Source: OECD and national statistical office calculations, based on the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) (database), https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database; the Australian General Social Survey; the Canadian Community Health Survey; Colombia's National Quality of Life Survey; the Korean Social Integration Survey; the Mexican National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure (Socioeconomic Conditions Module) and New Zealand General Social Survey.

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copy the linklink copied!Negative affect balance

Just over 13% of people in the OECD on average report more negative feelings (anger, sadness, worry) than positive feelings (enjoyment, laughing or smiling a lot, well-rested) – a measure described here as a negative affect balance. This rate ranges from more than 20% in Turkey, Italy, Greece and Spain to 8% or less in Ireland, Mexico and Finland, and just 5% in Iceland (Figure 8.5).

Negative affect balance has worsened for some countries, but improved for others, since 2010. The incidence of negative affect balance increased (implying a worsening of the situation) the most in Italy (up 6 percentage points), Belgium (nearly 5 percentage points), Turkey, Korea and Costa Rica (all more than 3.5 percentage points). By contrast, the rate of negative affect balance fell (implying an improvement in the situation) by at least 4 percentage points in the Slovak Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Estonia.

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Figure 8.5. Around 13% of people report experiencing more negative than positive feelings
Share of the population experiencing a negative affect balance on the previous day
Figure 8.5. Around 13% of people report experiencing more negative than positive feelings

Note: Negative states refer to experiencing anger, sadness or worry; positive states refer to feeling well-rested, enjoyment, or laughing or smiling a lot yesterday. A negative affect balance is recorded when a respondent reports more negative than positive feelings or states in the previous day.

Source: OECD calculations based on the Gallup World Poll (database), https://gallup.com/analytics/232838/world-poll.aspx.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934081777

copy the linklink copied!Subjective Well-being inequalities: gaps between population groups

Gender gaps are negligible for life satisfaction, but women experience higher rates of negative affect balance than men

For the 32 OECD countries with available data, gender differences in life satisfaction are negligible. In 2018, the OECD average life satisfaction rating was 7.4 for both men and women, measured on a 0 to 10 scale. The gender gap exceeded 0.2 scale points only in Estonia and Korea (where women rate their life satisfaction more positively than men) as well as Lithuania and Portugal (where men rate their life satisfaction more positively than women).

When it comes to negative affect balance, there is a clearer gender gap in favour of men (Figure 8.6). For OECD countries on average, 15% of women report experiencing more negative than positive feelings, while only 12% of men do, implying a gender ratio of around 0.80. Rates of negative affect balance are at least 3 percentage points higher for women than for men in close to half of OECD countries. Japan is the only country where men experience higher rates of negative affect balance (7.9%) than women do (6.9%), but in this case both genders fall well below the OECD average rate (13%).

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Figure 8.6. Women experience higher rates of negative affect balance, relative to men
Gender ratios for negative affect balance, 2010-18 pooled data
Figure 8.6. Women experience higher rates of negative affect balance, relative to men

Note: The gender ratio is calculated by dividing average values for men by average values for women. Thus, values above 1 always indicate better relative outcomes for women, and values below 1 always indicate better relative outcomes for men.

Source: OECD calculations based on the Gallup World Poll (database), https://gallup.com/analytics/232838/world-poll.aspx.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934081796

People under age 30 have higher life satisfaction and better affect balance than their older peers

Younger people generally report higher life satisfaction (Figure 8.7), and lower negative affect balance (Figure 8.8) than those at older ages. Among OECD countries, average life satisfaction is 7.8 for people aged 15-29, 7.5 for those aged 30-49, and 7.3 for those aged 50 and over. The prevalence of negative affect balance for the three age groups is, respectively, 9.2%, 14.3% and 15.4%. Nevertheless, exceptions to these average patterns are widespread. In northern Europe, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, both life satisfaction and rates of negative affect balance are reasonably good across all age groups, and few age-related differences exist – and where they do, they often favour the over-50s. Older people fare comparatively poorly in southern and eastern Europe (e.g. Lithuania, Hungary, Greece, Portugal and Latvia) as well as in Latin American OECD countries. In the majority of wealthier OECD countries, middle-aged people have the highest prevalence of negative affect balance.

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Figure 8.7. Countries with lower age-related inequalities have higher levels of life satisfaction overall
Mean values of life satisfaction on a 0-10 scale, by age, 2018 or latest available year
Figure 8.7. Countries with lower age-related inequalities have higher levels of life satisfaction overall

Note: The latest available year is 2014 for Australia and Mexico and 2013 for Iceland, Ireland and the Slovak Republic. The OECD average excludes Chile, Israel, Japan, Turkey and the United States, due to a lack of available data; and Korea, due to methodological differences. Data refer to the population aged 19-69 in Korea; 18 and older in Mexico; 15 and older in Australia, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand; and 16 and older in all other cases. Data for Korea (shown in grey) have limited comparability due to the age range considered and the response format used (see Box 8.1).

Source: OECD and national statistical office calculations, based on the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) (database), https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database; the Australian General Social Survey; the Canadian Community Health Survey; Colombia's National Quality of Life Survey; the Korean Social Integration Survey; the Mexican National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure (Socioeconomic Conditions Module) and New Zealand General Social Survey.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934081815

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Figure 8.8. Negative affect balance is worse after 30, but bounces back after 50 in northern Europe
Share of the population experiencing a negative affect balance yesterday, by age, 2010-18 pooled data
Figure 8.8. Negative affect balance is worse after 30, but bounces back after 50 in northern Europe

Source: OECD calculations based on the Gallup World Poll (database), https://gallup.com/analytics/232838/world-poll.aspx.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934081834

Education-related gaps are larger in countries with lower Subjective Well-being overall

Higher educational attainment is generally associated with higher life satisfaction (Figure 8.9) and lower prevalence of negative affect balance (Figure 8.10). OECD average life satisfaction is 7.1 for people without an upper secondary education, 7.5 for those who have completed upper secondary education, and 7.8 for the tertiary-educated. The prevalence of negative affect balance across the same educational categories are, respectively, 17.6%, 13.3% and 10.3%. However, education-related inequalities are larger in countries that generally have lower overall scores on these measures; among the countries that perform well on Subjective Well-being in general, differences by education tend to be much smaller.

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Figure 8.9. OECD countries with higher mean life satisfaction have smaller education-related gaps
Mean values on a 0-10 scale, by highest level of educational attainment, 2018 or latest available year
Figure 8.9. OECD countries with higher mean life satisfaction have smaller education-related gaps

Note: The latest available year is 2014 for Australia and Mexico and 2013 for Iceland and Turkey. The OECD average excludes Turkey, due to missing data for tertiary education; Korea, due to methodological differences; and Chile, Israel, Japan and the United States, due to a lack of available data. Data for Ireland and the United Kingdom are provisional.

Source: OECD and national statistical office calculations, based on the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) (database), https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database; the Australian General Social Survey; the Canadian Community Health Survey; Colombia's National Quality of Life Survey; the Korean Social Integration Survey; the Mexican National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure (Socioeconomic Conditions Module) and New Zealand General Social Survey.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934081853

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Figure 8.10. Higher education is associated with a lower prevalence of negative affect balance
Share of the population experiencing a negative affect balance yesterday, by highest level of educational attainment, 2010-18 pooled data
Figure 8.10. Higher education is associated with a lower prevalence of negative affect balance

Note: Data are not shown for countries where the sample size in a given education category is fewer than 500 observations (i.e. data for primary education are omitted for Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States; data for tertiary education are omitted for Slovenia). These countries are also excluded from the OECD averages shown.

Source: OECD calculations based on the Gallup World Poll (database), https://gallup.com/analytics/232838/world-poll.aspx.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934081872

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Box 8.1. Measurement and the statistical agenda ahead

Subjective Well-being is about good mental states, and how people experience their lives. The OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-Being (OECD, 2013[1]) emphasise three distinct elements: life evaluations (an overall assessment of life, such as life satisfaction); affect (feelings, emotions and states); and eudaimonia (meaning and purpose; a sense that the things you do in life are worthwhile). The present chapter captures only the first two elements (Table 8.1), due to the absence of high quality and internationally comparable data on eudaimonia.

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Table 8.1. Subjective Well-being indicators considered in this chapter

Average

Vertical inequality (gap between top and bottom of the distribution)

Horizontal inequality (difference between groups, by age, education, gender)

Deprivation

Life satisfaction

Mean average life satisfaction, based on a 0-10 scale

S80/S20 life satisfaction scores (i.e. average score among the top 20% of the distribution, divided by average score among the bottom 20%)

Gaps in mean average life satisfaction

Share of the population reporting life satisfaction of 4 or below on a 0-10 scale

Negative affect balance

Share of the population reporting more negative than positive feelings and states on the previous day

n/a

Gaps in the share of people with a negative affect balance

n/a

Life satisfaction is measured through survey questions concerning overall satisfaction with life on a 0-10 scale. Consistent with the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being (OECD, 2013[1]), the question format typically used in OECD countries is: “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days”, with a response scale ranging from 0 to 10, anchored by 0 (“not at all satisfied”) and 10 (“completely satisfied”).

Despite progress in harmonisation, methodological differences continue to hamper the comparability of life satisfaction data across OECD countries. These include minor differences in the question wording, such as the scale anchors used (e.g. “very dissatisfied” to “very satisfied” in Canada; “completely dissatisfied” and “completely satisfied” in New Zealand) or more substantial differences (e.g. identification of the scale mid-point, 5, as “neutral” in Korea). Differences in the population sampled also limit comparability. In the majority of OECD countries, data refer to the population 16 years and older, with minor variations in Australia, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand (where data refer to those aged 15 and older), and Mexico (those aged 18 and older). In Korea, a significantly narrower age range (19-69 years) is considered.

Negative affect balance is measured through a battery of items, to which respondents indicate “yes” or “no” to having felt a lot of each emotion or state on the previous day. The negative items considered here relate to anger, sadness and worry, and the positive affect items to enjoyment, feeling well-rested and laughing or smiling. A negative affect balance refers to respondents who report more negative than positive feelings or states on the previous day.

For country averages, data are pooled over all available years for a three-year period (e.g. 2016-18) to improve the accuracy of the estimates; for reporting inequalities, data are pooled over a longer time period (2010-18). Data are sourced from the Gallup World Poll, which samples around 1 000 people per country, each year. The sample is ex ante designed to be nationally representative of the population aged 15 and over (including rural areas); the sample data are weighted to the population using weights supplied by Gallup.

Correlations among Subjective Well-being indicators

There is a strong negative correlation (-0.79) between life satisfaction and the prevalence of negative affect balance: across the 33 OECD countries with data available on both measures, where negative affect balance is lower, people rate their life satisfaction higher, and vice versa (Table 8.2).

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Table 8.2. Life satisfaction and negative affect balance are related, but different
Bivariate correlation coefficients between the Subjective Well-being indicators

 

Life satisfaction

Negative affect balance

Life satisfaction

 

Negative affect balance

-0.79***

(33)

Note: Table shows the bivariate Pearson’s correlation coefficient; values in parentheses refer to the number of observations (countries). * Indicates that correlations are significant at the p<0.10 level, ** at the p<0.05 level, and *** at the p<0.01 level.

Statistical agenda ahead

A majority of OECD national statistical offices are now collecting life satisfaction measures in an internationally harmonised manner, though some methodological variation persists (see above). In Japan and the United States, no official life satisfaction data are available; in Chile and Israel, life satisfaction data have been collected by national statistical offices, but using a response scale format that is not comparable with that used in other OECD countries.

Despite progress towards harmonisation, life satisfaction data collections in OECD countries tend to be infrequent (e.g. a five-year lapse between the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions data collections) and long time series are still lacking for almost all countries.

The negative affect balance data reported in this chapter are sourced from the Gallup World Poll, due to the lack of harmonised data across statistical offices in OECD countries (Stiglitz, Fitoussi and Durand, 2018[2]). The World Poll offers a standardised measurement approach covering all OECD countries, and provides a consistent time series, collected on an annual basis in most OECD countries since 2005/6. To reduce the risk of retrospective recall bias, the World Poll measure is based on people’s feelings and affective states “yesterday”, rather than over a longer time period. When adopted in conjunction with very large sample sizes, the “yesterday” framing should be sufficient to establish a typical day’s experiences, but estimates can be more volatile over smaller samples or disaggregations across population groups. Data shown in this chapter are pooled over several years’ surveys to improve accuracy. An alternative framing of survey questions (adopted in several European countries) is to ask respondents about feelings and states over a period of several weeks, thereby reducing the impact of unusual events, but increasing the risk of retrospective recall bias and the role of dispositional tendencies in influencing the data. Data on affective experiences collected through Time Use Surveys are likely to yield the most accurate and useful results (OECD, 2013[1]), but are currently available in very few OECD countries (e.g. Canada, France, Luxembourg, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States), and substantially different methods are currently deployed across these surveys.

Eudaimonia measures are absent from this chapter, due to a lack of internationally harmonised data collected at regular time intervals. The 2013 ad hoc module of the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions data collection included a measure of eudaimonia that was roughly equivalent to measures used outside of Europe (i.e. feeling that the things you do in life are worthwhile) and was featured in the 2015 edition of How’s Life? (OECD, 2015[3]). However, these data have not been updated since, and no time series is available.

References

[3] OECD (2015), How’s Life? 2015: Measuring Well-being, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/how_life-2015-en.

[1] OECD (2013), OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264191655-en.

[2] Stiglitz, J., J. Fitoussi and M. Durand (eds.) (2018), For Good Measure: Advancing Research on Well-being Metrics Beyond GDP, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264307278-en.

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