Many of us fortunate souls take advantages like jobs, income, education, a clean living environment, and safety for granted. But now the facts, figures and rankings that can help inform us about the quality of life in countries all over the world have shed light on the harsh reality that in many countries these basic advantages aren’t accessible to the great majority of people. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development – the go-to source for sociological research on how a country is doing – the ‘less educated and low-income people’ are far worse off than the better educated, richer population in that ‘they are less healthy, they participate less in the community and they experience lower subjective well-being.’
Over the past two decades, the global landscape has changed dramatically: we’ve seen governments completely transform and the global economy grow stronger, and we’ve seen how unpredictable it can be. But the strongest countries have remained strong despite financial crises, and the poorer countries have unfortunately remained entrenched in poverty, with less-than-desirable living conditions and a lower level of subjective well-being.
Of course, even the best-off countries leave much to be desired. There’s still quite a large gap between the rich and poor, most dramatic in the richest and most powerful countries. The variety of jobs available has increased, but inequality still exists when it comes to equal pay for women.
The countries who score lowest on the OECD ‘better life’ index, though, have other even more pressing problems. They have to be worry about not being able to access or afford healthcare, or proper education.
The ‘better life index’ determines a country’s overall well-being based on four main categories which help determine the quality of life for each country: Economic, Environmental, Human and Social. Citizens are asked to report on things like housing, income, Jobs, Communication, Education, Civic Engagement, Health, Life Satisfaction, Safety and Work-Life Balance. All of these things, contributing to overall well-being, are then scored on a scale of 1-to-10.
For all those things many of us take for granted, there are citizens struggling to make ends meet, reporting dissatisfaction with their country of residence and frustration at the lack of opportunities, the inequality and the poor conditions in which they live. We’ve already looked at the countries which have been assessed as the best according to the OECD, but now we want to put that into context with a look at the five countries with the overall lowest level of well-being of all the OECD countries in the world. Their scores are assessed out of a possible total of 10, and are based on subjective self-reporting from citizens of the respective countries. Our results are based on the latest statistics released in 2013.
5. Russian Federation: 4.60
More commonly referred to as Russia, The Russian Federation offers one of the overall lowest standards of living in the world. With a population of over 142 million, the people of Russia are not as healthy as they should be. When it comes to health, they scored an extremely low 0.6 out of 10 and their life expectancy at birth is 70 years – which is shockingly low compared to the OECD average of 80 years. Total health spending is also quite low, with only 5.1% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) being employed for healthcare, compared to the 9.5% average. While obesity isn’t a significant contributing factor in the Russian’s low life expectancy, they do tend to drink and smoke a lot more than most other countries – factors which, as we all know, can negatively impact health. None of this looks good, but there is a silver lining for the Russians: Only 0.2% of Russians work very long hours, much less than the OECD average of 9%. Less time at the office means more time for family and a better work-life balance.
4. Brazil: 4.40
Necessities like food, clothing, healthcare and shelter all require money. But in Brazil, the vast majority of citizens don’t make nearly enough. In fact, they failed to score at all on the income scale. The average annual household net-adjusted disposable income is just $10,225 USD – horribly low compared to the OECD average of $23,047 USD. When it comes to the average household net financial wealth – taking into account the worth of house and property – the average is $5,861 USD in Brazil. Again, shockingly lower than the OECD average of $40,516 USD. A subpar income makes it incredibly difficult to raise a family and maintain a good overall quality of life which is reflected in the poor levels of health, safety and education. Despite this, the Brazilians seem to be more satisfied than most. As a matter of fact, 82% of people feel they have more positive experiences than negative in a day – their life satisfaction is higher than any other category of well-being in the country, at over 6 / 10. It seems that for the optimistic Brazilians, money really doesn’t buy happiness.
3. Chile: 4.31
Chile is not the place to go if you want to enjoy fresh air. Extensively polluted, the Particulate Matter (PM10) – particle pollution that can be harmful if breathed into the lungs in large amounts over a long period of time – is at 53.3 micrograms per cubic meter in Chile. This is the highest level of air pollution of all the countries on the OECD list – and over double the average PM10 of 20.9mg. A redeeming factor of the environment, though, is that 77% of Chileans are happy with their water. Income, housing and education are all rated abysmally in the Chilean Better Life Index, too, making this one of the bottom 3 countries for overall well-being.
2. Mexico: 3.42
If safety and security are priorities for you and your family, you should think twice about settling in Mexico. The country is plagued by assaults and homicides – many linked to violent drug cartels – so much so that Mexico received a zero score in the safety category. In Mexico, 13% of people reported falling victim to assault over the past 12 months, which was over 300% higher than the OECD average. The homicide rate in Mexico is higher than in any of the other participating countries in the Better Life index. In a strange statistical paradox, despite indisputably high crime rates and off-putting facts and figures, 72% of Mexicans still feel safe walking at home at night – which is quite a bit higher than the average of 67%. Income and education are both below level 1 on the 10 point scale in Mexico, and life satisfaction sits at 3/10. A bleak view – here’s hoping the government uses the scale for its intended purpose and targets improvements at these areas.
1. Turkey: 2.71
Turkey scored the lowest in a few categories, and received a zero score in community and work-life balance. In the education category, Turkey scored just 1.5 out of 10. Only 31% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, which is much lower over two times lower than OECD average, and the lowest education score of all the countries that participate in the OECD rankings. In a probable link with the low education level, it’s also very difficult to find a job in Turkey. Only 48% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a job. This is significantly lower than the OECD average of 66%, and – again – the lowest rate in the OECD. This is most likely due to the fact that a good part of the population doesn’t have the education required for a job.When it came to housing, Turkey didn’t do much better. The average home contains 0.9 rooms per person, which is less than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person and is one of the lowest on the list; and a cramped living space can negatively impact the overall mental health of family members. Even though Turkey didn’t score very high in most of the categories, 68% of people reported having more positive experiences than negative in an average day. It’s testament to the spirit of the Turkish people that despite the circumstances and enormous political unrest, they maintain a positive frame of mind.
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