Tuesday, 5 November 2013

How’s Life? 2013 – Focusing on people

This blog by Martine Durand, Chief Statistician and Director of the Statistics Directorate at the OECD, is part of the Wikiprogress  focus on the How's Life? 2013 report for the month of November 2013. 

Measuring better lives has become even more important today, as many of our economies and societies have been stricken by the global financial crisis. Understanding how the lives of people have been affected and designing the best strategies to help those who have suffered the most requires looking well beyond the impact of the crisis on economic production and financial markets.

The global financial crisis has seriously affected economic well-being

Many workers have lost their jobs since the start of the crisis in 2007 and many households have registered stagnating or declining levels of income and wealth.Today, there are nearly 15 million more unemployed people in the OECD area than before the crisis, and the number of people out of job for more than a year has reached 16 million. Meanwhile, between 2007 and 2010, relative income poverty rose in most OECD countries, especially among children and young people. Rising economic insecurity and financial strain have particularly hit low-income and low-educated households.

Trust in institutions has weakened

Other aspects of people’s well-being have also evolved in a negative way during the crisis. Life satisfaction fell considerably in the countries most severely hit by the crisis, such as Greece, Italy, and Spain, and in these countries more people reported experiencing high levels of stress and worry. Countries’ political capital has been severely undermined, as today only 40% of citizens in the OECD trust their national governments – the lowest level since 2006. And in countries most affected by the crisis, only between one and three citizens out of ten trust their governments, a ratio that has more than halved since the start of the crisis.

New forms of solidarity and engagement have emerged

In some countries, responses to the crisis went beyond public policy and also came from local communities, in the forms of higher interpersonal solidarity and different forms of civic participation. While people have found it more difficult to provide financial help, an increasing number report having provided other types of support to others, and having volunteered their time to help those in need in their community. Families have also been a source of support, both financial and in-kind, and have provided an important safety net, for instance to young people who had difficulty finding a job.

Well-being indicators offer new insights for policy making

Well-being metrics can provide a new and wider perspective to policy-makers in the areas that matter to people. Some of these areas have long been on their radar screen, such as jobs, health or education, but the more comprehensive set of outcome indicators at the individual or household levels contained in How’s Life? and their joint distribution across population groups can offer new insights on people’s conditions. This edition of How’s Life? explores in some detail two measurement issues in well-being that may offer new food for thought for policy making: gender gaps in well-being and well-being in the workplace.

Can women and men have it all?

The question of how well-being varies across population groups and why is fundamental to design better targeted and more effective policies. While much progress on gender equality has been achieved over the past decades, in a number of countries, gender remains an important determinant of well-being inequalities in the population. But contrary to the usual picture that captures economic conditions only, the gender gap is not always just a women’s issue. For instance, women live longer than men on average in the OECD and they are often more educated. However, women report a lower health status, have worse job prospects and fewer networks to rely on when looking for a job. Women also experience more often negative feelings than men.

Well-being in the workplace: The importance of quality jobs

For many years, the focus of policy has mainly been on providing job opportunities and ensuring that people who wanted to work could find a job. However, most people spend a large part of their lives working and what happens in the workplace is an essential determinant of overall well-being. Having a good or quality job does not just mean receiving good salaries or having dynamic careers; it also means working in an environment that is conducive to personal accomplishment and where people are committed. People’s engagement and high sense of well-being at work depend a lot on whether they have autonomy in their job andare given well-defined work objectives. Respectful and supportive management practices and support from colleagues are also important.When jobs and workplaces combine these factors, people are more apt to manage work pressure and emotionally demanding jobs, and they also tend to be healthier and more productive.

Focusing on what matters to people, and improving existing metrics or developing new ones to measure well-being and progress, is the way ahead to achieve better lives, today and tomorrow.

Martine Durand
OECD Chief Statistician
Director of the Statistics Directorate

How’s Life? 2013 is available from 5 November. Read free on-line @ www.oecd.org/howslifeand directly on OECD iLibrary: http://oe.cd/mr

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