Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How do we rate? Take the index for a spin

We’ve lots of space to ourselves, but comparatively little time. A new OECD survey of living standards across the leading 34 industrial nations finds Australia at or near the top on almost every measure, but toward the bottom on the question of free time.

Designed to go beyond the narrow yardstick of GDP per person the survey finds the average Australian house offers 2.4 rooms per person, well above the OECD norm of 1.6 rooms and the United Kingdom offering of 1.8. Only Canadian houses offer more at 2.5 rooms per person.

We enjoy the forth longest lives in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, expecting 81.5 years on birth, a span bettered only in Japan, Switzerland and Italy. And we are the forth most satisfied with our lives, being beaten only by Denmark, Canada and Norway when asked about satisfaction, and New Zealand, Canada and the United States when asked about perceived health.

We are relatively safe, being half as likely to face assault as is typical in the OECD . But oddly we feel just as much as risk with 27 per cent of us feeling unsafe on the streets after dark, about the OECD average.

We are among the nations most able to rely on friends, with 95 per cent of us believing we know someone who could help in a time of need. Around 65 per cent of us say we helped a stranger in the past month.

Although ninth in terms of household disposable income... we are well above the OECD average and would be near the top were it not for the outsized disposable incomes in the tax haven of Luxembourg and in the United States.

We are no more likely to have completed school than the OECD average, but those of us in school are much more likely to be able to read, with gap between high and low performing students unusually narrow.

Where we stand out at the bottom of the pack is in the hours spent at work. We are the sixth most likely to put in more than 50 hours per week - a keenness exceeded only in Turkey, Japan, Korea and Mexico. And we devote the sixth least time to sleep and personal care.

Professor Robert Cummins of Deakin University says the finding doesn’t point to low quality of life. “Our jobs are more interesting these days,” he said on being told of the OECD survey. “We used to want to get out the door. But now many of us find jobs are where we get our satisfaction. We are usually not working more hours because we are being watched but because we want to.”


Out of 34 OECD nations

Living space per person: 2nd

Life satisfaction: 4th

Life expectancy: 4th

Perceived health: 4th

Safety from assault: 5th

Strong social networks: 6th

Student reading skills: 6th

Employment: 8th

Air quality: 9th

Household income: 9th

Educational attainment: 23rd

Sociable working hours: 28th

Time to ourselves: 28th

OECD Better Life index

Published in today's SMH

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