Who lives best, and why

May 24, 2011 at 11:40 AM ET

Your Better Life Index

Here’s a deep question: How good is life in the country you live in?

Most of the time, economists and experts answer a question like that by looking at statistics such as gross domestic product or the unemployment rate.

Now, a new index from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is taking a look at quality of life from a broader, and more nuanced, perspective.

The “Your Better Life Index,” a website launching Tuesday, examines the usual markers that life is good, such as housing, income and jobs. But the interactive index of the OECD’s 34 member countries also seeks to quantify how well people live based on more complex factors, such as work-life balance, safety, community and life satisfaction.

So where does the U.S. fall? In areas such as income, housing and governance, we do pretty well. Also, 70 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their lives, compared with an OECD average of 59 percent.

We fall lower in the rankings in areas such as work-life balance, where we’re outpaced by countries including Canada, Luxembourg and Australia. That maybe partly because we work slightly more hours a year than the OECD average, and we also are the only OECD country that doesn’t have a national paid parental leave policy.

We fare even worse when it comes to health. Our life expectancy – at 77.9 years – is actually one year below the OECD average, and we spend much more than other countries on health care. On the other hand, we are much more likely to self-report that we are in good health.

Curious to see how good life might be in Turkey, Portugal or Slovenia? Take a look at the interactive index here.

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