What Is a Better Life? OECD’s Better Life Index Explores Quality of Life

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Written by Winona Roylance

On October 16-17, 2017 Sodexo hosted the second Quality of Life conference, bringing together leaders of companies, universities, NGOs, hospitals, governments and communities from more than 30 countries to explore the future of quality of life.

During the conference, Anthony Gooch, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at OECD presented findings of the Better Life Index and what it means for the future of quality of life. The OECD created the Better Life Index, an international data pool that compares the wellbeing priorities of people around the world. Initially launched in 2011 and having catered to more than 100,000 people from 180 countries since then, the Better Life Index asks participants about 11 topics dealing with living conditions and quality of life—including housing, jobs, work-life balance, income, health, safety, education, community, civic engagement, environment and life satisfaction. It then breaks down this information by demographics such as gender and age group and compares countries against each other to determine how quality of life stacks up in different parts of the world.

The results demonstrate how preferences for different aspects of quality of life vary from one area to another, such as how people in North America have a strong desire for life satisfaction while those in Mexico tend to prioritize education. Ultimately, the Better Life Index shows that due to different aspects of wellbeing being prioritized differently in each region as well as different external factors such as air quality and unemployment, major inequalities in wellbeing are widespread. However, while many issues still exist, policy is increasingly becoming collaborative, and the potential to remedy these large-scale inequalities through partnership is becoming entirely possible—and soon, quality of life may be improved both within countries and around the world in major ways.

More than revealing a quantitative analysis of quality of life across the globe, the data in the Better Life Index also reveal stories about the different environments, struggles and accomplishments of individuals and communities around the world. In Australia, for example, the OECD Better Life Index reveals that nearly 14% of employees in Australia work long hours, which can affect other areas of wellbeing such as health and relationships. This has led to work-life balance as being indicated as the greatest concern in Australia—and therefore in order to increase quality of life, focus must be placed on policies that support a more stable work-life balance.

Similarly, the Better Life Index reveals that safety is rated highly as a concern in areas such as Japan and South Korea, despite having some of the lowest rates of assault and homicide among OECD countries. In order to remedy this, Seoul created a violence prevention program known as the Initiative for Single Women in an effort to not only keep women safe, but to also help them feel safe.

On a more general scale, the Better Life Index also reveals inequalities between people from different socioeconomic spheres, such as how inequalities in the wellbeing of adults often transforms into inequalities for their children. In terms of bullying, for example, children who report living in poverty often also report instances of being bullied in school. Conversely, children in families who are more comfortable socioeconomically report better health, better relationships, more advanced skills, and higher civic engagement.

Every two years, the OECD publishes a report on people’s wellbeing around the world based on the Better Life Index. Titled “How’s Life?”, this report uses comprehensive data and statistics from the index to create a broad-based picture of the challenges people are facing, the disparities between areas and what needs to be done to improve quality of life, all of which policymakers can then use to better inform their policy decisions.

Ultimately, the OECD Better Life Index demonstrates how policy is becoming an increasingly collaborative process—a fact that bodes well for the future of wellbeing. Through collaboration, policymakers can work in conjunction with people from all sectors to scale solutions for quality of life in truly profound ways while also focusing on the individual issues of each region. It is only in this way that we will be able to tackle the world’s greatest challenges in quality of life and unleash a new era of wellbeing for all.