How’s Life? 2020 Virtual Launch

On 9 March 2020, we launched the 2020 How’s Life? which provides an update on the state of various dimensions of well-being beyond GDP including income and wealth, work and job quality, health, housing, environment quality, civic engagement, social connections, safety, work-life balance, and more. This framework also considers inequalities across all dimensions of well-being. This virtual launch included Saila Ruuth, State Secretary, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Finland; Karine Moykens, Secretary-General for the Department of Welfare, Public Health, and Family, Flanders; Nancy Hey, Executive Director, What Works Centre for Wellbeing; Sarah Davidson, CEO, Carnegie UK Trust; Dennis Snower, Founder and President of the Global Solutions Initiative. Find the publication here: oecd.org/statistics/how-s-life-23089679.htm

Virtual Launch How’s Life 2020 Gabriela Ramos OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa ton the 20 Saila Ruuth 9 march 2020 Paris, France Photo : OECD / Victor Tonelli

I’m very pleased to share with you a few key findings from the report, before we move to discussing together as a panel.

Figure 1. How do we measure people’s wellbeing?

First, let’s take a look at HOW we measure a concept like “well-being.”

How’s Life? is the OECD’s main report on well-being, covering 41 countries, and showing over 80 different indicators. The report is structured around our framework (shown above).

In this framework, we analyze dimensions of well-being “today” (top left of Figure 1), well-being inequalities (top right of Figure 1), and the resources and risk factors that underpin and determine future well-being (along the bottom of Figure 1).

Current well-being focuses on the outcomes that matter to people. Think of these as the key ingredients for a good life.

We group these into 11 dimensions, covering material conditions (like income, work and housing); quality of life (such as health, knowledge and skills and subjective well-being – or how people feel about their lives); and more relational aspects of well-being (such as social connectedness).

For each measure in current well-being, we look at average performance, inequalities between different groups (ie. men versus women; young versus old; high versus low educated);  inequalities between people at the top and people at the bottom;  and identify the share of people who are considered “deprived” in terms of their well-being. 

But we don’t just care about the state of well-being today:  we also want to know if that well-being is on a sustainable footing for future generations. 

Virtual Launch How’s Life 2020 Gabriela Ramos OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa ton the 20 9 march 2020 Paris, France Photo : OECD / Victor Tonelli

In this vein, we consider four different types of resources (or capitals) that tell us about the health of the systems that support well-being over time: natural capital, human capital, economic capital, and social capital.

These measures are not necessarily telling about the state of well-being but rather about the state of the wider societal systems that support and underpin well-being. And here we look at stocks of resources, flows, and risk and resilience.

For both current well-being and resources for future well-being a key interest is in how these are changing over time – i.e. is life getting better, and for whom?

Figure 2. In many ways, life is better than in 2020

The good news is that, in some ways, life has been getting better since 2010. How’s Life? 2020  documents improvements in OECD countries on average in several important aspects of people’s well-being:

  • Household disposable income has risen consistently since 2010 in around half of all OECD countries, and has gone up for the OECD on average by 6%, cumulatively.
  • Fewer people live in overcrowded conditions – down from 14.2% to 11.6% between 2010 and 2017
  • The adult employment rate has climbed almost 5 percentage points since 2010 (when the impacts of the financial crisis were deeply felt in labour markets)
  • Some aspects of job quality are improving: the share of employees who usually work very long hours has fallen by 1.7 percentage points
  • Life expectancy has climbed consistently in most OECD countries (although there are some signs of plateauing in certain countries)
  • The homicide rate has fallen by a quarter
  • Life satisfaction has gone up by 3%.
Figure 3. …but different OECD countries face different realities

Yet for other indicators, as you can see in Figure 3, progress on well-being has been much more mixed, or has even declined in several OECD countries. 

Figure 3 also emphasises that different OECD countries face very different realities for some aspects of well-being.

Figure 3 shows the number of OECD countries who, compared to 2010, have consistently deteriorated (yellow), remained stable (blue), or have improved (pink).[1]

  • According to the latest OECD PISA study, science skills at 15 years of age have worsened in nearly half of all OECD countries
  • Income inequality has improved in 6 OECD countries, but worsened in 11 – and remained stagnant for the rest.  So while incomes are going up on average, those gains aren’t necessarily being used to level up inequalities
  • Social support, housing affordability, negative affect balance and voter turnout have each worsened in roughly as many countries as they have improved – and there is no clear trend in around half or more countries
  • We have a lot of data gaps for household wealth and time spent on social interactions – but where we do have data, the majority of OECD countries are generally stagnant or deteriorating.

Economic insecurity, disconnection and despair affect significant numbers of people in OECD countries.

Life remains financially precarious for many people:

  • More than in 3 people in OECD countries are financially insecure, meaning they lack liquid financial wealth to support their household at the income-poverty line for more than three months in the event of a shock.
  • The protective buffer that household wealth provides has also been eroded since 2010: among the 15 countries with available data, median household wealth has fallen by 4%, on average

We live in an ever-more connected world, but is that making us closer?

  • We have very little trend data for time spent socializing, but studies in 7 countries show people spend almost 30 minutes less per week interacting with friends and family than they did around a decade ago.  That represents a 7% fall. 
  • 1 in 11 people feel that they do not have friends and family whom they could count on for help in times of need.

And even in prosperous OECD countries, too many people are living in misery:

  • Around 7% of the population in OECD countries report very low life satisfaction.  This has fallen since 2010 but 7% is still 7% too high.
  • Deaths from suicide, acute alcohol abuse and drug overdose, while a small share of overall deaths, are still 3 times higher than road deaths.  These deaths are much higher among men than women, but there are some concerning trends, with “deaths of despair” rising among women in more than 1/3 of OECD countries since 2010. 
Figure 4. Men and women still cannot “have it all”

Technical note:  the “lollipops” show the average gender ratios. The line across the middle of the figure represents “parity” between men and women (a ratio of 1). Values below 1 mean men are doing better than women.  Values above 1 mean women are doing better than men. 
Virtual Launch How’s Life 2020 Gabriela Ramos OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa ton the 20 9 march 2020 Paris, France Photo : OECD / Victor Tonelli

Men and women still cannot “have it all” when it comes to well-being. 

As you can see in Figure 4 above, there are some large gender differences in well-being across OECD countries on average. And while sometimes men fare better than women [shown in pink] there are also some aspects of well-being where women are doing better than men [shown in blue] – at least for the OECD on average, if not in every country.

For example:

  • Far more women work long hours in UNPAID work, relative to men.  And on average, women spend 2 hours per day more than men on unpaid work (such as housework and caring responsibilities). 
  • By contrast, twice as many men work long hours in PAID work – and they take home 13% higher earnings. 
  • Relative to men, women also have more depressive symptoms; feel less safe walking alone at night in the area where they live; and are less likely to be in paid employment, relative to men

Yet there are also several aspects of well-being where women (on average) fare better than men:

  • Women are less likely to lack social support; they spend more time on social interactions than men; and they are less likely to die from “deaths of despair” such as suicide, acute alcohol poisoning, drug overdose, or homicide. However, it is also important to note that such “deaths of despair” have been rising among women in more than 1/3 of OECD countries since 2010.

How’s Life? 2020 isn’t just about well-being today: it also covers a wide range of resources and risks for future well-being.

Of course, new threats to well-being are arising all the time. The latest one that is preoccupying governments around the world is coronavirus. 

We must build resilience across our natural, economic, human and social systems in order to be ready to face new threats as they emerge.

Yet in our data, we see some warning signs…

On natural capital there are grave concerns for both the climate and biodiversity:

  • Change poses formidable risks to both people and planet.  Global greenhouse gas emissions from energy use reached their highest ever level in 2018. 
  • In almost half of OECD countries, more species are at risk of extinction, relative to 2010
  • To have any hope of meeting emissions targets, we need a fundamental shift in where our energy comes from.  At the moment just 10.5% of the total OECD energy mix is supplied from renewable sources.

Social capital remains in a weakened state across OECD countries:

  • While trust in government has improved slightly since 2010, it worsened in some of the countries where it is already low, and in 2018 fewer than half the population in the average OECD country said that they trust their government
  • Inclusive decision-making remains a distant goal:  only 1 in 3 people in OECD countries feel that they have a say in what the government does, and women hold just one-third of all seats in OECD parliaments

If you want to find out more about how life is going where you live, we’ve created country profiles you can find online.

These cover headline indicators of current well-being, resources for future well-being, change over time, and inequalities (including by gender, age and education). 

That was a quick selection of facts and figures, but you can find much more online at oecd.org/howslife.


[1] White bars are countries where we don’t have a time series

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