By Valentina Magri

Happiness report

‘Life is beautiful’ is not just the title of a famous Italian comedy-drama, as of 2013, it may be also the statement of the typical English citizen.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has recently released a report entitled ‘How’s Life in 2013’, measuring the well-being of English people using the Better Life Index. The measure of the well-being is interesting for at least two reasons.

The first is that it assesses individual and societal progress beyond “the cold numbers of GDP and economic statistic” by including living conditions and other experiences. The second reason is that OECD measures wellbeing over time, including both present and future generations. Current wellbeing depends on material living conditions (i.e. income and wealth; jobs and earnings; housing conditions) and also on quality of life (i.e. health status; work-life balance; education and skills; social connections; civic engagement and governance; environmental quality; personal security and subjective well-being).

How does the UK compare?

United Kingdom is tenth in the OECD Better Life Index ranking. The average disposable income is $23,047 (net adjusted) and the life expectancy is 81 years. The happiest OECD countries are Australia (1st), Sweden (2nd) and Canada (3rd).

England performs better in six out of eleven dimensions of wellbeing with respect to the other examined nations: income and wealth; jobs and earnings; civic engagement and governance; personal security; social connections; environmental quality. In addition, Britain ranks close the OECD average in work-life balance, but it is below average in education and skills.

Well-being is mannish?

The gender gap (in favour of men) has been declining in most OECD countries and also in the UK, but some gaps remain in place. For instance, the wage gap in Britain is more severe than the OECD average (18 per cent with respect to an average of 16 per cent). Another gap concerns politics: 77 per cent of the English Parliament seats are occupied by men, while the OECD countries average  equates to 73 per cent.

Another gender continuum is personal security: women are less likely to feel safe when walking alone at night than men (67 per cent and 85 per cent respectively). Finally, inequality affects also family life. Indeed, women are more likely to spend many hours performing household tasks: 30 hours for females and 17 for males in the UK, while in OECD countries the proportion is 32:21 hours.

Well-being and the crisis

The crisis has not affected the income of English people, but its impact has been huge on people’s engagement with society. On the one hand, people reporting to have helped someone decreased by three percentage points between 2007 and 2011. On the other hand, from 2007 to 2011, English households have experienced a cumulative increase in real disposable income of around one per cent, while in the Euro area income dropped by two per cent.

Further, despite the fall of employment rate by almost two per cent and the equal increase of long-term unemployment rate, the percentage of British people very satisfied with their lives increased from 63 to 64 per cent from 2007 to 2012. But the most remarkable data is that 85 per cent of the population say the have more positive than negative experiences in an average day in 2013, proving that this has been a rather happy year in the face of the greatest financial crisis in living memory.

Will the same go for 2014? We do not know yet, but we are close to the answer.

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