Better Life Index Offers Insights into U.S. Well-Being

A young couple walk arm-in-armThe Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is an economic organization that promotes capitalism and democracy throughout the world. Its Better Life Index for 2014 measures 11 categories of well-being: housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance. The recently released 2014 version of the report provides information about quality of life in numerous countries and offers key data on both positive and negative aspects of life, health, and well-being.

How’s Life in the United States?

The 2014 Better Life Index compares quality of life in 36 countries, all of which are industrialized and highly developed. OECD’s analysis of life in the United States found that Americans score relatively high on many measures of well-being. Key data points from the research include:

  • 90% of Americans say they know at least one person on whom they could rely in a time of need.
  • U.S. students score 492—slightly lower than the average of 497—on the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment, which measures reading, math, and science literacy. On average, girls outperform boys on this measure by nine points.
  • The average annual disposable income per person in the U.S. is $39,351, and 67% of Americans between the ages of 15 and 64 have a paid job. The U.S. ranks higher than any other country for net disposable income.
  • Voter turnout for major elections in the U.S. is 67%, slightly lower than the international average of 72%. Turnout is higher among wealthy economic classes, and lower for the bottom 20% of the population.
  • 75% of Americans say they have more positive than negative experiences in an average day.
  • On most measures of gender inequality, including jobs and health, the U.S. ranks worse than most other countries. The highest American gender inequality rankings in the survey relate to jobs. For example, women face more job insecurity in the U.S. than they do in most other surveyed countries.
  • Americans spend more time at work and less time with family and leisure activities than residents of most other countries, ranking 33 out of 36 for time devoted to personal activities. This ongoing challenge with work-life balance touches every aspect of American life, undermining people’s ability to spend time with their families and reducing their options for relaxing,learning new skills, and cultivatingand maintaining social relationships.
  • The average dwelling offers 2.3 rooms per person, and 99.9% of Americans live in a home with private access to a toilet—a higher figure than the international average of 97.9%.

If you’re interested in a specific measure of well-being, OECD offers an interactive tool that allows you to measure quality of life in your home country according to your own values.


  1. How’s life? (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. OECD Better Life Index. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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  • Laney

    August 9th, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    If the numbers are so good then why are there still so many people who seem to still have so much to complain about?

  • Rory

    August 9th, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    The numbers all sound great… but there is some soul or something that is still missing from the everyday fabric of our lives.
    I am not quite sure that I can put my finger on it but there still feels like there is something that keeps many of us having holes in our hearts that even numbers and stats like these won’t help to heal.
    I think that somehow we have lost something fundamentally valuable in ourselves over the past few decades and even information like this won’t get that back for us until we take the initiative to make those improvements and changes.

  • lisa

    August 11th, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    Any thoughts on how this compares to years past? I would think that life expectancy would have risen over the years but not general life satisfaction. Where could I find data from the past to compare?

  • Genevieve

    August 13th, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    How is it possible that gender inequality is still such an issue today? Haven’t we been fighting this fight long enough to see more equality in life than what we are actually experiencing?

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