OECD Report: How to Measure Life Satisfaction

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Society At A Glance 2009
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
132 pages

The Gist:

If you're looking for another reason to hate on France, you might check out the latest report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. According to the Paris-based group, the French spend twice as much time enjoying meals each day than most Americans, and get nearly an hour's more sleep each night than most Japanese (who averaged just 7.8 hours of shut-eye). The study, which is based on government data and Gallup polls from 18 of the OECD's member countries, includes a broad spectrum of "social indicators" — from education spending and fertility rates to adult height and "life satisfaction" — to determine how the different societies stack up. (See pictures of Paris expanding.)

Highlight Reel:

1. On Eating, Sleeping and Leisure: "Americans spend around an hour and a quarter eating every day, slightly more than only Canadians and Mexicans but less than half the eating time spent by the French. Despite this limited time spent eating, their obesity rates are the highest in the OECD." (That's ten times the rate in South Korea, mind you). "Spain reports the highest proportion of leisure time spent doing regular physical activities. Even there, exercise accounts for a mere 13% of leisure time. ... Italian men have nearly 80 minutes a day of leisure more than women. Much of the additional work of Italian women is apparently spent cleaning the house. Norway is the most equal society, with men having only a few more minutes of leisure than women. Norwegians spend just over a quarter of their time on leisure, the highest among OECD countries, while Mexicans spend just 16%, the lowest. So what are we doing with our leisure time? Watching TV absorbs nearly half of all leisure time in Mexico and Japan and falls to a low of 25% in New Zealand. Turkey is the most sociable nation, spending 35% of leisure time entertaining friends, more than triple the OECD average of 11%."

2. On Youth Around the Globe: "Being a bully or being bullied is not uncommon. Around one in 10 OECD children is a recent bullying victim... Greece and Austria have the most bullies, whereas Sweden, the Czech Republic and Iceland have the least. Perpetrators and victims of bullying are more likely to be boys than girls. Only in Hungary and Greece are girls victims of bullying more often than, or equal to, boys. There are no countries with more female than male perpetrators. ... Underage drinking is a big problem in the United Kingdom. Although rates have fallen since 2001/2002, in 2005/2006 one in three girls between 13 and 15 said they got drunk regularly in the United Kingdom, more than anywhere else. Boys of the same age were only just behind (32%), second only to Denmark (34%). With around one in ten male teenagers not in education, employment or training, the United Kingdom has the second highest rate in the OECD, after Italy. The rate for females between 15 and 19 is lower only than in Italy, Japan, New Zealand and Spain."

3. On Overall Happiness: "Life satisfaction rose or remained constant in 23 countries and only declined in Portugal, Hungary, the United States, Canada and Japan. The rise in life satisfaction in Turkey is particularly striking. ... While Mexico shows the lowest income among OECD countries, at $10,000 per capita, Mexicans report being almost as satsified with life as OECD's highest income country Luxembourg, at $55,000. ... Korea now has the highest suicide rate among OECD countries (around 22 deaths per 100,000 individuals). Ireland shows a marked regular increase of suicide rates with a peak in 2000, followed by a small but continuous decline."

The Lowdown:

While the report's aim is to compare societies across the globe and examine how government policy affects people's daily lives, its authors are quick to caution against jumping to conclusions, especially for large countries "with a significant degree of federalism" (think U.S., Canada and Australia). Still, the report does offer some tidbits that tickle the brain: did you know that despite having one of the longest life expectancy rates in the world, most Japanese people think their health is poor? Well, now you do.

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