Your Better Life Index

The OECDs Your Better Life Index lets you weight 11 dimensions of a better life such as housing, income, community, health, and life-satisfaction and then produces a flowery graph showing how countries score according to your metric. Looks like I screwed up.  According to my metric, I should be living in Canada. What’s up with that, eh?

If you don’t like the OECDs better life ranking, here is Oprah’s best life series.

Hat tip: Real Time Economics.


I did an 'empiric Principal Component Analysis' on the OECD's model. Maybe unsurprisingly in th SWPL based weights in this model, the USA only comes out on top, if I prefer:
- high income
- no community
- bad education
- bad environment
- high governance
- poor health
- no life satisfaction
- poor safety
- poor work life balance

However, after having lived in and worked for many years in 4 other OECD countries, on 3 different continents, my experience has been exactly the opposite. So I decided to stay come here and then stay in the fifth country, the US.
The amount of hidden bias in these international organizations like OECD, WHO and UN is truly astounding.

My third try to comment. Please read "Maybe unsurprisingly, given the SWPL based weights..." and
"So I decided to come here and then stay in the fifth..."

I played with this thing for several minutes and I could not get USA to be the #1. The best I could do is get it to #2, with the following settings: 4,5,1,1,3,2,5,2,2,2,3

Try 1 everywhere, but 5 for Income and Governance. The USA will be just above Australia.

Nice one. It's actually 5 for income, education and governance and 1 for everything else.

"The amount of hidden bias in these international organizations like OECD, WHO and UN is truly astounding."
Yes - real world facts certainly has a well known bias.

Real world facts? Like the 50 million climate refugees that we had in 2010, as predicted by the UN in 2005?

Aren't you supposed to put 'real world facts' in quotes, kind of like 'reality based'?

Where's the high IQ and low IQ variance option.

Lately whenever I see a graph like this, I wish they would list U.S. states, as they're more comparable in size to countries in Europe.

There's really a lot less variance between the states than we might actually notice. Check out, where you can break out the states and compare against a number of factors with other countries worldwide. The USA really is a first-world country everywhere.

If you make a fair comparison against other countries, you will see the homogeneity in the USA but you would never conclude, "The USA really is a first-world country everywhere."

The USA is a third world country everywhere at home even as it exercises extreme military power abroad.

We're just using different definitions, that's all.

That's because it increasingly has a third world population.

You should actually visit (and maybe move for good?) a third world country before saying such stupid things.

I'm sure you're right. I was thinking more in terms of comparison between first-world countries and the US. I find the reduction to one data point annoying.

I believe that a graph by county would validate your extreme wisdom...

TallDave is right, of course. The American States are more diverse than the Member States of the EU.

It probably tends to depend on what you're measuring. But in terms of size the EU is more comparable to the US than any of its component countries.

Now obviously a graph of the EU vs the US wouldn't be very interesting, given that it only had two data points. OTOH, Luxembourg vs USA doesn't seem to make a lot of sense either.

You can get some interesting information this way, though -- for instance, the Great Plains states have much higher life expectancy than Deep South states, so much so that they would tend to be around the top and bottom of a distribution that included U.S. states and OECD countries.

Well, at the level of the nation (and I agree that greater disaggregation would be better, but counties maybe not-so-much--metropolitan areas?), Australia, Canada, and the US are about the same for my weights. And (see ad*m's comments), I placed relatively high weights on education, envoronmental quality, health, and life satisfaction.

I find this doubtful, Australia is top of the governance scale, and that appears to be in large part because of high voting rates, but voting is compulsory in Australia.

The governance scale seems prone to problems like the one you point out. Switzerland, the most democratic nation on the planet by far, ranks close to the bottom due to its generally low turnout. There are several reasons for the low turnout there (the high number of polls, the limited power of politicians etc.) but bad governance is most certainly not one of them.

Wouldn't the most democratic country be one where 50.1% can vote to put the other 49.9% to death?

Democracy is not just an absolute rule of a majority. It typically involves at least some basic individual rights.

Obviously, my point was to emphasize the high level of direct voter participation in Switzerland.

Sorry, just a poor jest.

Yes, when we say "democracy" in the West, we generally don't mean the sort of society that forced Socrates to drink poison, we mean a liberal or constitutional democracy.

If enough of us moved to Canada, it might just be the perfect solution (not for the Canadians though, eh). All Canada needs for it to be comfy for us in the US is a little more buzz.

I am thinking of how Southern California changed since the 1950s, from the bucolic laid-back Beach Boys playland to the hard driving dog-eat-dog sprawl by the Pacific. I give all credit to the mass immigration of New Yorkers looking to escape the weather and dog eat dog back East. The couldn't move the weather but they brought just enough of that aggressiveness to make them feel at home in LaLaLand. Same with enough Americans moving to our friendlier neighbors of the North. Alas, I hear they are not too keen on that idea.

Mass immigration of New Yorkers? You're on drugs, right?

Surely this falls into the "wherever you go, there you are" category--I got a plenty good education here in the US, but I'm sure that University of Copenhagen (or whatever) would do as well as Yale and Berkeley. The differences between countries are much smaller than the differences between individuals.

On the other hand, based on experience talking to electrical engineers, I have serious doubts about the quality of many Malaysian universities. (Or alternatively, I should have serious doubts about the quality of my own education).

Where is the Weather category?

Where are:
Freedom of speech?
Freedom of the Press?

Where is *any* freedom?

One would (could) assume that freedom is the independent variable that leads to upticks in these dependent variables.

Up your fart-hole.

" In the most recent elections for which data is available, voter turnout in the United States was 90%"

This does not sound right.

That is bizarrely inaccurate. Maybe they confused the USA with Tonga.

A quick search shows that we give the OECD $93 million in funding. I don't think we would miss it if we just made that $0. Next, the Department of Education. Then Energy. Then Labor.

At least that chart is better than this one:

I couldn't find the toggle for Women's Status... whether I'd have equal legal rights, access to professional jobs, or the ability to ride on a train unmolested are other factors that would be nice to know.

Just avoid the IMF.

I'm not even going to try and guess at the usefulness or accuracy of this particular index, but I will say that when I read, "According to my metric, I should be living in Canada" and realized it was Alex who was writing, I really did "laugh out loud". I'm not exactly sure why, there's just something unexpected and incongruous about reading those words from Alex. Not sure what that says about the index or about my (very limited) understanding of Alex.

I found the categories too coarse to be able to assign meaningful weights. What exactly is "housing" measuring? Is more sq ft good or bad? Do local amenities count? House upgrades? Costs to maintain? Neighborhood crime rates? And so on for all of the categories.

They had a section explaining all the rankings. Housing, for example, is based on % owning their own home and avg. sq. ft. per person.

Wrong. It's based on rooms per person and % of dwellings without basic facilities.

These sorts of rankings are BS. Didn't you have a link a while back about the flaws in "Best City" rankings? Housing, income, community, health, and life-satisfaction?
I live in Canada and I can tell you I'm a VERY unsatisfied individual.

Ah, but wouldn't you be even more unsatisfied everywhere else?

No, I've lived in other places I consider better. The problem with these rankings is everyone has a different opinion of what satisfies them. Maybe most people have a similar opinion so these rankings could be a good guide for most people but for someone like me I don't really care about the quality of the local elementary school, or how big a house I can buy in a certain neighborhood.

But that's why the site allows you to weigh different sub-criteria differently. Not sure if this helps much.

If these rankings were based on exciting nightlife, fun cities, and great nearby travel opportunities Canada would be way down the list. These are the things I look for in a good country.

Bah, move. Simple solution. If you have skills, countries welcome you.

This chart is way less than it appears - I put in all kinds of weird numbers and you always get the same general ordering. There's no way to get e.g., Turkey to move up at all.

The really good countries are good at just about everything.

You can get Turkey to beat Chile, Estonia, and Mexico if you set everything at 1 except Safety and Governance to 5. But yeah, it's rough otherwise.

This chart was probably designed by a flyfishing afficianado. Phooey.

I heard the Northwest Territories are a fun place to be during the winter time.

So Israel is 0.5 notches happier than Italy? I think most people would rather be in the latter...So the financial crisis and massive currency collapse and loan debacles didn't effect Iceland or Ireland? Sure.

So, where is the civil liberties dimension?

My sense is that these rankings tell more about the people doing the ranking than they do about the places being ranked. I recall a particularly amazing "study" which argued that Zimbabwe and Cuba were "happier" than the US. It turned out the study was put out by a hardcore eco-activist group and their "happiness" rating was based on per-capita CO2 emissions. Since low CO2 emissions correlates very well with poverty, the "happiest" countries were the poorest on the planet.

Yeah, I agree, you should be living in Canada. Please, take Tyler with you.

The OECD partial index measuring governance makes absolutely no sense to me. Switzerland occupies the fifth worse position, due to the low voter turnout and this despite high confidence in governement, widespread direct consultation and a highly federalistic political structure.

There's no concept of trade offs in the model - it assumes you can have really high income and great work life balance. In this case, why not just put 5 for all of them?

Some of the categories are very abstract, also, and/or interdependent on the other factors. Who's going to vote 1 on Life Satisfaction?

Think it's a pretty lame, simplistic model from a quick scan.

There’s no concept of trade offs in the model – it assumes you can have really high income and great work life balance. In this case, why not just put 5 for all of them?

The tradeoffs are imposed by reality -- if there's really no nation where everyone has high incomes and great work-life balances, that will show up in the results.

On the other hand, if two variables aren't incompatible in the data, then why should the questionnaire force you to choose between them?

Right, if you want high voter turnout, Poland in 1989 comes to mind. Low turnout? The US in 1996...not that I buy the 90% number for 2008 either (more like 57%). Occasionally, the OECD seems to smoke crack with its data offerings. I really do care about civil liberties too; on this score, the US and Germany would both do very well, the US better on some dimensions and the Germans on others.

That said, the ordering is going to be hard to budge no matter what. It's hard to get Turkey and Mexico to move up all that high, unless one counts the weather. It's hard to get Sweden to move down all that low, unless one counts the crippling darkness in winter.

Other observations...I don't know where this stereotype of Americans as uneducated comes from. The subjective satisfaction index really does seem to measure something (grumpy Germans, optimistic Americans), and in daily life, this matters a lot. The law of large numbers applies to aggregate statistics; all of the large countries are ranked near the middle of the OECD; I bet that Bavaria and Brandenburg (or Mass. and Miss.) would end up ranked somewhat differently.

I tried to select options that took Canada out of the top few and could not find the combination to do so. I suspect that it's showing as in the top of each of the individual criteria. Having spent quite a few summers and a couple of falls in country I have to say it's not a bad place to live. You have to like all the seasons but that's true of a lot of places.

Makes me think, what would an option or several related to weather and seasons do to the rankings?

I second the observation that liberty, self-determination, personal opportunity, or any manifestations thereof never get a weighting in these sorts of rankings.

Perhaps because they're impossible to measure in any even vaguely rigorous way?

If it's actually important to a large number of people it would show up in the life satisfaction polling, but wouldn't be distinguishable from other factors that contribute to life satisfaction.

This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.WQE

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