1. Introduction

This article explores how areas of well-being in the UK compare with the 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)1 using national well-being measures if available or similar well-being measures where comparable if not. If international comparable data are not available then a comparison with countries in the European Union (EU)1 is included if available. The article uses data from sources including the Charity Commission, Eurobarometer, European Quality of Life Survey, Eurostat, Gallup World Poll, International Social Survey Programme, OECD, Programme for International Students Assessment and the World Health Organisation.

Notes for Introduction

  1. For information on what countries belong to the OECD and EU - see 'OECD countries and member states of the EU' section.
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2. Main points

  • Life satisfaction scores have not recovered to pre-economic downturn levels for more than half of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, although all countries except Greece have shown an increase in GDP per capita.

  • The UK showed an increase of nearly 5% in GDP per capita but no change in life satisfaction between 2007 and 2014.

  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of people in the UK reported being in good or better health in 2013, higher than the OECD average of 68%.

  • Over 9 in 10 (91%) of people in Great Britain reported being satisfied with their family life in 2012. People in Iceland were most satisfied (95%) while people in Korea were the least satisfied (65%).

  • Over three-quarters (76%) of people in the UK felt safe walking alone at night in the area where they lived in 2012. People in Norway felt the safest (89%) while people in Greece were least likely to feel safe (47%).

  • Nearly half (47%) of people aged 15 and over in the UK reported having confidence in the national government in 2012. This was higher than the OECD average of 40%.

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3. Life satisfaction and the economic downturn

Introduction

GDP has long been recognised as just one way of measuring a country’s progress (Thomas, J. And Evans, J., 2010)1 and this is especially true as countries emerge from the most recent economic downturn. Many people, including organisations such as the Legatum Institute and the OECD, now recognise that economic indicators do not provide the whole picture of how societies were impacted by the economic downturn2.

The idea that GDP (or on a more individual level, income) does not relate to life satisfaction was first put forward by R. A. Easterlin, and has become known as the Easterlin paradox<sup<3. Although people with higher income generally have higher life satisfaction, over time an increase in income (beyond a certain point) does not improve life satisfaction scores. This argument holds true at the national level as well as individually. Easterlin found that in the USA and across Europe, there was little or no trend of improved life satisfaction over many years of increasing GDP per capita.

Life satisfaction is one of the 41 measures of national well-being. As a measure of subjective well-being it can provide an additional picture of how a country has responded to the economic downturn, and potentially reveal problems that aren’t apparent when only considering economic factors4. This section looks at how GDP per capita and life satisfaction scores have changed since 2007 for the 34 countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

GDP per capita and life satisfaction

Figure 1 clearly shows that those countries with a lower GDP per capita report lower life satisfaction scores than countries with a higher GDP per capita. The average life satisfaction for the 5 countries reporting the lowest GDP per capita (Hungary, Poland, Chile, Mexico and Turkey) was just 5.7 out of 10 in 2007, whereas the average score for the 5 countries reporting the highest GDP per capita (Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, USA and Ireland) was 7.4 out of 105.

In 2014, the countries reporting the highest and lowest GDP per capita were the same as in 2007. Between 2007 and 2014 GDP per capita for the bottom 5 countries rose by 33%, and life satisfaction scores rose by 0.2 out of 10. The rise in GDP per capita was lower for the top 5 countries (an increase of 14%), but the average life satisfaction score fell by 0.2 out of 10.

Changes in GDP per capita and life satisfaction by country, 2007 to 2014

The period 2007 to 2014 encompasses the economic downturn which started in 2008. Each country in the OECD was affected differently by the downturn and so responded to the challenges differently. The OECD report, Society at a Glance 2014, considers data for a variety of social indicators, from unemployment and health to life satisfaction and tolerance, to provide a fuller picture of the social situation in OECD countries after the downturn. The OECD found that “life satisfaction deteriorated during the first years of the crisis between 2007 and 2012” - in aggregate accross all its member countries.

Using updated life satisfaction data, Figure 2 shows that for over half of the OECD countries, life satisfaction has still not recovered to pre-downturn levels. However, all of these countries except Greece have shown an increase in GDP per capita.

“In the OECD as a whole, the poor employment situation had a major impact on life satisfaction. This trend is not visible in the United Kingdom where, from 2007 to 2013, the percentage of British people declaring being very satisfied with their lives increased” (OECD, 2013).

According to OECD data, the UK has shown an increase in GDP per capita of nearly 5% and no change in life satisfaction score (6.8 out of 10) between 2007 and 2014 (ONS data shows that life satisfaction in the UK increased between 2011 and 2014).This compares with the OECD average, which shows an increase in GDP per capita of 14% but a decrease in life satisfaction of around 1% over the same period. The differences in these two measures over time illustrate why it is necessary to look at a whole range of measures when considering national well-being.

Why has life satisfaction improved in some countries but declined in others?

Of all the OECD countries, Poland shows the biggest increase in GDP per capita between 2007 and 2014 (an increase of 45.1%). During the global economic downturn, Poland experienced continuous growth, and increased its GDP per capita from 54% of the EU average in 2007 to 65% in 2011 (Orlowski, W.M). However, life satisfaction scores remained broadly flat, at 5.9 out of 10 in 2007 and 5.8 out of 10 in 2014.

Poland’s economic growth has recently slowed and unemployment has increased as Poland’s largest trading partners within Europe recovered from the downturn and decreased demand for Polish goods (Reichardt, 2011). Rural Poland is recognised as having higher levels of poverty than urban areas. It may be that some young Poles feel there are few prospects for them within Poland (Szczerbiak, 2015). This apparent lack of opportunity, together with growing inequality, may be impacting upon the life satisfaction of the Polish people, despite the growth of the economy as a whole.

Greece is the only OECD country to have experienced negative growth in GDP per capita between 2007 and 2014. Life satisfaction scores have also fallen over this period, from 6.6 to 4.8 out of 10 – the lowest life satisfaction score among OECD countries. The proportion of Greek people reporting that they trust the government in Greece fell from 38% to 13% between 2007 and 2012 (OECD), while the proportion of people who were optimistic about the future was just 20% in 2011 (Eurofound).

Chile saw the greatest improvement in life satisfaction scores (5.7 to 6.7 out of 10) along with the third highest percentage increase in GDP per capita (an increase of 33.2% from $16,709 (USD) to $22,254). This increase may be a reflection of a number of different factors: statistics from the OECD show that public social expenditure increased from 8.3% of GDP in 2007 to 10% in 2013, while the unemployment rate decreased from 7.1% of the total labour force to 6.4% in 2014. In addition, there was a presidential election in 2013.

Slovakia similarly saw a large improvement in life satisfaction scores (5.3 to 6.1 out of 10), and the fourth highest percentage increase in GDP. Slovakia reported one of the largest increases in real household disposable income in the OECD between 2007 and 2011 (the latest data available) and the overall employment rate fell by 1% between 2007 and 2012. At the same time, trust in government rose by 12 percentage points between 2006 and 2013, (OECD, 2014). However, there is considerable inequality in Slovakia: the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is around $30,700 compared with around $7,900 for the bottom 20%.

Iceland, Switzerland and Denmark had the highest life satisfaction scores in 2014 at 7.5 out of 10. While Switzerland’s life satisfaction score remains unchanged from 2007, and Denmark’s fell over the period, Iceland’s life satisfaction score increased from 6.9 in 2007 to 7.5 in 2014. At the centre of the economic downturn in Iceland was a collapse of the banks (whose assets were worth nearly 1000% of GDP), and drops of 70% in the value of the currency and 80% in the stock market. Despite this, by 2014 Iceland’s GDP per capita had increased by nearly 12%, and its life satisfaction score had increased from 6.9 out of 10 in 2007 to 7.5 out of 10.

Since 2009, despite cuts in government expenditure in Iceland, benefit payments have not been cut, and income inequality has fallen. Furthermore, OECD figures show that since 2008 Iceland has reported a 2 percentage point increase in its trust in government score.

Conclusion

The experiences of these selected countries illustrate that there are many factors contributing to their average life satisfaction scores, from the structure of the labour market and financial inequality to social freedoms and trust in political systems. Furthermore, they clearly show that GDP is only one of a number of measures which should be considered when assessing a country’s progress.

ONS’s work during the National Well-being debate (407.1 Kb Pdf) identified 10 areas, or domains, that people felt are key when considering well-being. These include areas such as health, education and skills, personal finance, and the environment. The rest of this report looks at the measures presented in each of these domains and identifies comparable data sources, where available, for OECD countries.

Notes for Life satisfaction and the economic downturn

  1. Stiglitz, J. E., et al., Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, 2009, also has details.
  2. The Legatum Institute, Prosperity since the Financial Crisis, pg 13; and OECD, Society at a Glance, 2014, pg 16.
  3. The Easterlin paradox has been disputed, most notably by Stevenson, B., and Wolfers, J. (2008).
  4. The OECD suggests that “Waning life satisfaction could... be seen as a leading indicator that points to serious health or societal problems developing at a later date” (2014, pg 30).
  5. Top 5 OECD countries by GDP per capita, 2007 and 2014; Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, USA, Ireland. Bottom 5 OECD countries by GDP per capita, 2007 and 2014; Hungary, Poland, Chile, Mexico, Turkey.
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4. Personal well-being

“Subjective (or personal) well-being reflects the notion that how people experience a set of circumstances is as important as the circumstances themselves, and that people are the best judges of how their own lives are going” (OECD, 2011).

There are 5 measures in the National Well-being “Personal well-being” domain. International data are available for 2 of the measures using alternative measures from a different source, while EU data are included for 1 measure. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet) .

Life satisfaction

According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted by Gallup World Poll, the average (mean) rating of life satisfaction of adults aged 16 and over in the UK was 6.8 out of 10 in 20141 (Figure 3). This was slightly higher than the OECD average of 6.6 out of 10 and was similar to Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg (6.9 out of 10) and Chile and Mexico (6.7 out of 10). The highest-ranked countries were Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland (7.5 out of 10), while Greece was the lowest ranked country (4.8 out of 10).

Happiness

Adults aged 18 and over were asked on the 2012 International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), “If you were to consider your life in general, how happy or unhappy would you say you are, on the whole?” In Great Britain, 87.2% of respondents reported that they were completely, very or fairly happy, a similar proportion to Australia (87.9%). The countries that had the largest proportion of people reporting that they were completely, very or fairly happy were Iceland (92.4%), Switzerland (90.9%) and the United States (89.6%). Korea had the lowest proportion of people reporting that they were completely, very or fairly happy (62.6%).

Feeling worthwhile

According to the 2011–12 European Quality of Life Survey, over 8 in 10 (81.9%) adults aged 16 and over in the UK strongly agreed or agreed they generally felt that what they did in life was worthwhile. This was higher than the EU–28 average of 78.5%, and was similar to both Spain (81.5%) and Belgium (81.1%). The highest-ranking countries were Denmark and the Netherlands, where over 9 in 10 (91.4%) strongly agreed or agreed that they generally felt that what they did in life was worthwhile, while the lowest-ranking country was Greece (47.8%).

Notes for Personal well-being

  1. The Gallup World Poll asked respondents to: “Imagine an eleven-rung ladder where the bottom (0) represents the worst possible life for you and the top (10) represents the best possible life for you. On which step of the ladder do you feel you personally stand at the present time?”
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5. Our relationships

“Beyond the intrinsic pleasure that people derive from spending time with others, social connections have positive spill-over effects for individual and societal well-being. People with extensive and supportive networks have better health, tend to live longer, and are more likely to be employed” (OECD, 2011).

There are 3 measures in the National Well-being “Our relationships” domain. Comparable international data are available for 1 of these measures using an alternative measure from a different source. For the remaining 2 measures an EU comparison is shown. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet) .

Satisfaction with family life

People aged 18 and over were asked to rate their satisfaction with their family life on the International Social Survey in 2012. In Great Britain, over 9 in 10 (90.9%) reported that that they were completely, very or fairly satisfied with their family life (Figure 4). This was similar to Poland (90.4%) and Slovenia (90.3%). Iceland had the highest proportion of people completely, very or fairly satisfied with family life (95.1%), while the country with the lowest proportion was Korea (65.3%).

Satisfaction with social life

On the 2011–12 European Quality of Life Survey, people aged 16 and over were asked to rate their satisfaction with their social life out of 10. In the UK the average rating of satisfaction was 7.0 out of 10. This was lower than the EU–28 average of 7.3 out of 10 and similar to Ireland and Greece (both 7.1 out of 10) and Estonia and Croatia (both 6.9 out of 10). The country with the highest average rating was Denmark (8.3 out of 10), while the country with the lowest average was Bulgaria (5.9 out of 10).

Support if needed advice about a serious personal or family matter

On the same survey, people aged 16 and over were asked who would give them support if they needed advice about a serious personal or family matter. In the UK, 88.7% people said that they had support from family, friends, neighbours or someone else in 2011. This was lower than the EU–28 average of 93.0%. The highest-ranking country was Slovakia (98.8%), while the lowest-ranking countries were France (86.1%) and Denmark (88.1%).

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6. Health

“Being healthy is one of the most valued aspects of people’s lives, and one that affects the probability of having a job, earning an adequate income, and actively participating in a range of valued social activities” (OECD, 2011).

There are 4 measures in the National Well-being “Health” domain. Comparable international data are available for 3 of the measures using alternative measures from different sources. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet) .

Self-reported health

According to data published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Eurostat, just under three-quarters (74%) of adults aged 15 and over in the UK reported “good” or “better health” in 2013 (Figure 5). This was the same proportion as Belgium and Greece and higher than the OECD average of 68%. The highest-ranking country was New Zealand (90%), while the lowest-ranking country was Japan (30% in 2010).

Reported a long-standing illness, chronic condition or disability

In 2011, a third (33.3%) of adults aged 18 and over in Great Britain reported a long-standing illness, chronic condition or disability according to data from the International Social Survey Programme. This was similar for Denmark (33.6%) and Slovakia (33.8%). The highest proportion of people reporting a long-standing illness or health problem was in Finland (43.7%), while the lowest proportion was in Switzerland (21.3%).

Healthy life expectancy at birth

According to data from the World Health Organisation, males in the UK had an estimated 69 healthy life years1 at birth in 2013. This was the same as Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland and Norway. Females in the UK had an estimated 72 healthy life years at birth in 2013. This was the same as Belgium, Chile, the Netherlands, Norway and Slovenia. Japan was the highest-ranking country for both male and females (72 and 78 healthy life years respectively). Hungary was the lowest-ranking country for males (61 healthy life years), while Turkey was the lowest-ranking country for females (67 healthy life years).

Notes for Health

  1. Average number of years that a person can expect to live in "full health" by taking into account years lived in less than full health due to disease and/or injury.
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7. What we do

“The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits” (OECD, 2011).

There are 6 measures in the National Well-being “What we do" domain. Comparable international data is available for 3 of these measures using alternative measures from a different source and 2 measures have an EU comparison. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet) .

Harmonised unemployment rate

In 2014, the harmonised unemployment rate1 for the UK was 6.2% according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (Figure 6). This was the same rate as the United States and a similar rate to the Czech Republic and Australia (6.1%). The countries with the largest harmonised unemployment rate were Greece (26.5%) and Spain (24.4%), while the countries with the lowest rate were Korea and Norway (both 3.5%).

Satisfaction with main job

In 2012, just over three-quarters (76.0%) of adults aged 18 and over in Great Britain reported that they were completely, very or fairly satisfied with their main job according to data from the International Social Survey Programme. This was similar to Turkey (77.4%), Spain (77.7%) and France (77.8%). Mexico had the highest proportion of people who were satisfied with their main job (89.7%), while the lowest proportion was in Japan (59.8%)2.

Volunteering

According to data from the Charities Aid Foundation, just under 3 in 10 (29%) adults aged 15 and over in the UK participated in some kind of volunteering 1 month prior to interview in 2013. This was the same as proportion as Austria and Iceland. The highest ranked countries were Canada, New Zealand and the United States where 44% of adults participated in volunteering 1 month prior to interview, while the lowest ranked countries were Turkey (5%) and Italy and Poland (both 9%).

Cultural participation

A special Eurobarometer survey run from April to May 2013 looked at cultural access and participation. Just under 8 in 10 (79%) adults aged 15 and over in the UK had a combined score of very high, high and medium cultural engagement3. This was higher than the EU–27 average of 66% and similar to France and Luxembourg (both 81%). The country with the highest combined score of very high, high and medium cultural engagement was Sweden (92%) while the lowest was Greece (37%).

Taking part in sports or physical exercise

According to the European Quality of Life Survey, 46.8% of people aged 16 and over in the UK took part in sports or physical exercise at least once a week between September 2011 and February 2012. This was higher than the EU–28 average of 39.7% and similar to Germany (47.6%). The highest proportion of people who took part in sports or physical exercise at least once a week were in Finland and Sweden (72.5% and 70.4% respectively), while the lowest proportion was in Bulgaria (12.0%).

Notes for What we do

  1. Harmonised unemployment rates define the unemployed as people of working age who are without work, are available for work, and have taken specific steps to find work. The uniform application of this definition results in estimates of unemployment rates that are more internationally comparable than estimates based on national definitions of unemployment. This indicator is measured in numbers of unemployed people as a percentage of the labour force and it is seasonally adjusted. The labour force is defined as the total number of unemployed people plus those in civilian employment.
  2. The question was asked of those aged 16 and over in Japan.
  3. A simple index of cultural practice was formed to help identify levels of engagement in cultural activities among citizens from the 27 EU Member States. This is based on the frequency of participation and access to the different cultural activities included in the survey. Each respondent had been given a score based on their frequency of participation, and these scores were used to identify the different cultural index types of ‘very high’, ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’. For more information see special Eurobarometer 399 available at Eurobarometer.
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8. Where we live

“Where people live matters for their well-being and improving people’s lives requires making where they live a better place” (OECD, 2014).

There are 6 measures in the National Well-being “Where we live” domain. Comparable international data are available for 1 of these measures using an alternative measure from a different source and 3 measures have an EU comparison. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet).

Feeling safe walking alone at night in the city or area where living

According to the 2012 World Gallup Poll, over three-quarters (76.1%) of people aged 15 and over in the UK felt safe walking alone at night in the city or area where they lived (Figure 7). This was higher than the OECD average of 72.2% and similar to Luxembourg (75.9%). People in Norway felt the safest (88.9%), while people in Greece felt the least safe (46.7%).

Access to recreational or green areas

Research has shown that living in an urban area with green spaces has a long-lasting positive impact on people's mental well-being and generally beneficial to public health1. Therefore having ease of access to them is important. Just over 9 in 10 (90.6%) adults aged 16 and over in the UK reported that they had very easy or easy access to recreational or green areas on the 2011–12 European Quality of Life Survey. This was higher than the EU–28 average of 86.6% and was similar to France (90.9%) and Croatia (90.4%). The highest-ranking country was Denmark (97.0%), while the lowest-ranking country was Greece (74.7%).

Feeling close to people in the local area

Looking at whether people feel close to other people in the area where they live can give a sense of whether they feel a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood. According to the European Quality of Life Survey in 2011–12, 58.4% of people aged 16 and over in the UK reported that they felt close to other people in the area where they lived. This was lower than the EU–28 average of 66.6% and was similar to Germany (58.3%) which was the lowest-ranking country. The highest-ranked country was Cyprus (80.8%).

Satisfaction with accommodation

On the European Quality of Life Survey in 2011–12, 80.2% of people aged 16 and over in the UK rated their satisfaction with their accommodation as 7 or more out of 10. This was higher than the EU–28 average of 76.9%, and similar to Belgium (80.7%). Finland had the highest proportion of people who rated their satisfaction with their accommodation as 7 or more out of 10 (90.9%), followed by Denmark and Malta (both 89.7%). Latvia had the lowest proportion of people rating their satisfaction with their accommodation as 7 or more out of 10 (55.2%). 

Notes for Where we live

  1. Research by the University of Exeter - Beyond green space: an ecological study of population general health and indicators of natural environment type and quality.
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9. Personal finance

“While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being. Higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, health care and housing” (OECD, 2011).

There are 5 measures in the National Well-being “Personal finance” domain. Comparable international data are available for 1 of these measures using an alternative measure from a different source and 3 measures have an EU comparison. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet).

Median net wealth per household

Financial wealth makes up an important part of a household’s economic resources, and can protect from economic hardship and vulnerability. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), median net wealth per household1 in Great Britain in 2012 was $187,380. This was higher than the OECD average (18 countries) of $132,615 and similar to Belgium ($188,149 in 2010). The country with the highest median net wealth per household was Luxembourg ($360,251 in 2010), while the Netherlands had the lowest median net wealth per household ($34,194 in 2010).

Median equivalised disposable income

Disposable income is the amount of money that households have available for spending and saving after direct taxes (such as income tax and council tax) have been accounted for, but before housing costs. It includes earnings from employment, private pensions and investments as well as cash benefits provided by the state. Equivalisation adjusts the income to take into account the size and composition of the household. Data from Eurostat shows that in 2013 the median equivalised household disposable income (expressed in PPS2) for the UK was €16,826, similar to Cyprus (€17,165) and Ireland (€15,968). Luxembourg had the highest median equivalised income (€28,030) while the lowest median equivalised income was in Romania (€3,936).

Households making ends meet with difficulty or great difficulty

In 2013, over a fifth (21.1%) of all households in the UK reported great difficulty or difficulty in making ends meet (Figure 8). This was lower than the estimated EU–28 average of 28.9%, and was similar to Belgium (21.0%) and France (20.5%). The countries with the highest proportion of households reporting great difficulty or difficulty in making ends meet were Greece (78.3%) and Bulgaria (65.2%), while the lowest proportion of households were in Sweden (6.6%) and Finland (6.9%).

At-risk-of-poverty rate after deducting housing costs

In 2013, nearly a third (32.4%) of the population of the UK were at-risk-of-poverty3 (after deduction of housing costs) according to data from Eurostat. This was slightly higher than the than the EU–28 average of 32.2%. The highest proportion of people at risk of poverty (after deduction of housing costs) was in Greece (46.4%), while the lowest proportion of people was in Malta (23.7%) and Cyprus (24.7%).

Notes for Personal finance

  1. Wealth values are expressed in 2005 USD by, first, expressing values in prices of the same year (2005) through consumer price indexes and, second, by converting national values into a common currency through the use of purchasing power parities for household consumption.
  2. The purchasing power standard, abbreviated as PPS, is an artificial currency unit. Theoretically, one PPS can buy the same amount of goods and services in each country. However, price differences across borders mean that different amounts of national currency units are needed for the same goods and services depending on the country.
  3. An individual is considered to be in poverty if they live in a household with an equivalised disposable income below 60% of the national median. The after housing costs measure refers to the percentage of persons in the total population who are at-risk-of-poverty after housing costs have been deducted, i.e. with an equivalised disposable income without total housing cost below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold calculated in the standard way.
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10. Economy

“Well-being has several dimensions of which money income is only one. It is nevertheless an important one, since richer economies are better placed to create and maintain other well-being-enhancing conditions...” (OECD, 2006).

There are 3 measures in the National Well-being “Economy” domain. Comparable international data are available for all these measures using alternative measures from a different source. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet).

Net national income per capita

In 2012, ranking countries by net national income (NNI)1 per capita, 14 OECD member countries were above the OECD average (100%), and 19 were below. The UK was just below the OECD average at 99.9%. The 5 highest ranked countries were Norway (184.3%), Luxembourg (156.9%), Switzerland (144.8%), the United States (140.7%), and Sweden (121.1%). The lowest ranked countries were Mexico (an estimated 50.5%) and Hungary (55.8%).

Government consolidated gross debt

According to data from the OECD, the UK general government total gross2 debt was 95.1% of gross domestic product (GDP) at current prices in October to December 2014. The highest rate of general government total gross debt as a percentage of GDP was in Japan (244.6%), while the lowest rate was in Estonia (10.6%).

Inflation rate

According to data from the OECD, the UK had a rate of inflation (Consumer Price Indices)3 in 2014 of 1.5% which was similar to Austria and the United States (both 1.6%) (Figure 9). Turkey (8.9%) and Chile (4.7%) had the highest inflation rates, while some OECD countries experienced falling prices, for example, Greece (negative 1.3%) and Portugal (negative 0.3%).

Notes for Economy

  1. Net national income (NNI) is equal to gross national income (GNI) net of depreciation. Gross National Income is defined as GDP plus net receipts from abroad of wages and salaries and of property income plus net taxes and subsidies receivable from abroad.
  2. The definition and more information about general government debt is available here stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=1161
  3. Consumer Price Indices (CPIs) measure the average changes in the prices of consumer goods and services purchased by households (percentage change on the same period of the previous year). In most instances, CPIs are compiled in accordance with international statistical guidelines and recommendations. However, national practices may depart from these guidelines, and these departures may impact on international comparability between countries.
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11. Education and skills

“Education and skills have a strong influence on people’s well-being. Education opens opportunities for people and brings a wide range of benefits to society, including higher economic growth, stronger social cohesion and less crime” (OECD, 2011).

There are 3 measures in the National Well-being “Education and skills” domain. Comparable international data are available for 1 of these measures using an alternative measure from a different source and a comparison of educational performance sourced from the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA)1 is also included. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet).

Performance in mathematics, reading and science

The UK score for mathematics in 2012 was 494 points on average, the same as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average. The UK’s mean score was similar to Iceland (493) and France (495). Korea and Japan had the highest mean score among the OECD countries (554 and 536 respectively), while the lowest mean scores were in Mexico (413) and Chile (423).

The UK score for reading in 2012 was 499 points on average, slightly higher than the OECD average of 496. The UK’s mean score was similar to the United States (498) and Denmark (496). Japan and Korea had the highest mean scores (538 and 536 respectively), while the lowest mean scores were in Mexico (424) and Chile (441).

The UK score for science in 2012 was 514 points on average, higher than the OECD average of 501. The UK's mean score was the same as Slovenia. Japan and Finland had the highest mean scores (547 and 545 respectively), while the lowest mean scores were in Mexico (415) and Chile (445).

Educational attainments below upper secondary education

According to data from the OECD, just over a fifth (20.8%) of people aged 25 to 64 in the UK had educational attainments below upper secondary education2 in 2013 (Figure 10). This was lower than the OECD average of 23.5% and similar to Denmark (21.7%). Turkey and Mexico had the highest proportion of people who had educational attainments below upper secondary education (65.2% and 61.6% respectively). Conversely, 7.2% of people aged 25 to 64 in the Czech Republic and 8.2% in Slovakia had educational attainments below upper secondary education.

Notes for Education and skills

  1. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an ongoing triennial survey. It assesses the extent to which 15-year-old students near the end of compulsory education have acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. The assessment does not just find out whether students can reproduce knowledge; it also examines how well students can take what they have learned and apply it to unfamiliar settings, both in and outside of school.
  2. Those who had, pre-primary and primary education, lower secondary education or ISCED 3C (short programme). More information is available at www.oecd.org/education/eag.htm
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12. Governance

“Civic engagement allows people to express their voice and to contribute to the political functioning of their society. In turn, in well-functioning democracies, civic engagement shapes the institutions that govern people’s lives” (OECD, 2011).

There are 2 measures in the National Well-being “Governance” domain. Comparable international data are available for these measures using alternative measures from different sources. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet).

Confidence in national government

Nearly half (47%) of people aged 15 and over in the UK reported having confidence in the national government in 2012 according to data from the Gallup World Poll (Figure 11). This was higher than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 40% and similar to France and Belgium (both 44%). Switzerland had the highest proportion of people reporting confidence in their national government (77%), while Greece had the lowest proportion of people reporting confidence in their national government at 13%.

Voter turnout

According to data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, two-thirds (66.1%) of registered voters in the UK voted in the parliamentary election in 2015. This was a similar proportion to Finland in 2015 (66.9%) and the United States in 2012 (68.0%). Among the OECD countries, Australia in 2013 (where there is compulsory voting) and Luxembourg in 2013 had the highest proportion of registered voters who actually voted at 93.2% and 91.2% respectively. Poland in 2011 and Switzerland in 2011 had the lowest proportion of registered voters who actually voted, at 48.9% and 49.1% respectively.

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13. Natural environment

“The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health and well-being. An unspoiled environment is a source of satisfaction, improves mental well-being, allows people to recover from the stress of everyday life and to perform physical activity” (OECD, 2013).

There are 4 measures in the National Well-being “Natural environment” domain. Comparable international data are available for 2 of these measures using measures from different sources and 1 measure has an EU comparison. There is more information in Comparison of National Well-being measures and international measures (621.5 Kb Excel sheet).

Greenhouse gas emissions

Environmental statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions1 stood at 584.3 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (Mt of CO2e) in 2012. This figure was the fifth highest among OECD countries and was similar to Australia (543.6 Mt of CO2e). The United States (6,487.8 Mt of CO2e) and Japan (1,343.1 Mt of CO2e) had the highest total emissions, while Iceland (4.5 Mt of Mt of CO2e) and Luxembourg (11.8 Mt of Mt of CO2e) had the lowest.

Energy from renewable sources

In 2012, renewables accounted for 4.5% of the UK’s total primary energy supply2 according to data from OECD. This was lower than the OECD total of 8.5% and similar to Australia (4.6%) and the Netherlands (4.3%) (Figure 12). The highest shares of renewable energy as a percentage of primary energy supply in 2012 were found in Iceland (84.7%) and Norway (46.9%). The lowest percentage shares were in Korea (0.7%) and Luxembourg (3.2%).

Recycling rate of municipal waste

According to data from Eurostat, an estimated 43.5% of the UK’s municipal waste was recycled or composted3 in 2013. This was above the EU–28 average of 41.8%. The country with the highest proportion of recycled or composted municipal waste was Germany (estimated at 64.5%). The countries with the lowest proportions were Romania (estimated at 2.6%), Malta (10.4%) and Slovakia (10.8%).

Notes for Natural environment

  1. Data refer to total emissions of CO2 (emissions from energy use and industrial processes, e.g. cement production), CH4 (methane emissions from solid waste, livestock, mining of hard coal and lignite, rice paddies, agriculture and leaks from natural gas pipelines), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).
  2. Renewable energy is defined as the contribution of renewables to total primary energy supply (TPES). Renewables include the primary energy equivalent of hydro (excluding pumped storage), geothermal, solar, wind, tide and wave sources. Energy derived from solid biofuels, biogasoline, biodiesels, other liquid biofuels, biogases and the renewable fraction of municipal waste are also included. Municipal waste comprises wastes produced by the residential, commercial and public service sectors that are collected by local authorities for disposal in a central location for the production of heat and/or power.
  3. The recycling rate is the tonnage recycled from municipal waste divided by the total municipal waste arising. Recycling includes material recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion. Municipal waste consists to a large extent of waste generated by households, but may also include similar wastes generated by small businesses and public institutions and collected by the municipality; this latter part of municipal waste may vary from municipality to municipality and from country to country, depending on the local waste management system. This variation in scope across the Member States means that cross-country comparison is problematic. For areas not covered by a municipal waste collection scheme the amount of waste generated is estimated.
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14 .Background notes

  1. Data from the International Social Survey Programme: These figures have been calculated using unweighted data. For information about data for each country, please see the study descriptions available on the GESIS website: //dbk.gesis.org/dbksearch/sdesc2.asp?no=5900

  2. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

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15 .Sources used in 'International comparisons, 2015'

Charity Commision - www.cafonline.org/publications/2014-publications.aspx

Eurobarometer - Eurobarometer

European Quality of Life Survey - www.eurofound.europa.eu/surveys/eqls

Eurostat - Eurostat

Gallup World Poll - Gallup World Poll - Gallup Worldview

International Institute for Democracy and Electorial Assistance - www.idea.int/vt/

International Social Survey Programme - www.issp.org/

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - OECD: Statistics

Programme for International Students Assessment - www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results.htm

World Health Organisation - www.who.int/research/en/

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16 .OECD countries and member states of the EU

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

The OECD is an international economic organisation of 34 countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. It is a forum of countries describing themselves as committed to democracy and the market economy, providing a platform to compare policy experiences, seeking answers to common problems, identify good practices and coordinate domestic and international policies of its members.

OECD member countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea (South Korea), Luxemburg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The European Union

The EU was created on 1 November 1993, when the Maastricht Treaty came into force. It encompasses the old European Community (EC) together with two intergovernmental ‘pillars’ for dealing with foreign affairs and with immigration and justice. The European Union consists of 28 member states (EU–28), where the EU–27 is referred to in this article, Croatia is not included.

The 28 member states are as follows: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

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Contact details for this Article

Joanne Evans
joanne.evans@ons.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455898