Denmark’s residents are the most satisfied with their lives, according to the Better Life Index released Monday. According to the study, published annually by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States failed to crack the top 10 for the fifth consecutive year.
The Better Life Index rates the 34 OECD member nations, as well as Brazil and the Russian Federation, on 22 variables that contribute to overall well-being, including income, education, housing, health, and life satisfaction. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 countries with the highest life satisfaction score.
A healthy job market is one of the most important factors contributing to higher life evaluations. Employment rates — the percentage of the working-age population that is employed — were higher in each of the 10 countries with the highest life satisfaction score than the average employment rate for the countries reviewed.
Conversely, countries with relatively unhealthy job markets had lower life satisfaction scores. Unemployment rates were above 8.5% in seven of the 10 least happy countries, while they were lower than 7% in all but two of the happiest countries.
Healthy labor markets not only help promote job security, but also they can contribute to workers’ mental health. Romina Boarini, head of well-being and progress measurement in the OECD’s statistics division, noted that, “unemployment and fear of job loss are detrimental to [a worker’s] mental health.”
Feeling connected to one’s community is another factor in a country’s happiness. In all but one of the happiest countries, at least 90% of respondents reported having a quality support network that they could rely on in times of need. “People are social creatures and get pleasure from spending time with others,” Boarini said.
Good personal health, too, can contribute to a person’s happiness. In New Zealand, tied for the seventh happiest country, 90% of people surveyed considered themselves in good health, the highest proportion of all countries reviewed. Additionally, in all but one of the happiest countries, more than 70% of respondents said they were in good health, all higher than the 36 country average of 68% of people in countries reviewed.
In the United States, life satisfaction rebounded after two years of falling in the rankings, largely due to the country’s improving labor market. Despite the recession erasing a majority of wealth in the country, households had an average net worth of $146,000, by far the most among countries reviewed. Boarini warned that U.S. life satisfaction may be misleading, however, as the data are based on a small sample. In previous years, lower life satisfaction in the U.S. was attributed to income inequality. “We do know the more unequally the income is distributed, the lower the life satisfaction.” In fact, the Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, has worsened in the U.S. in recent years. The U.S. still has one of the worst Gini coefficients in the OECD.
To determine the happiest countries in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the countries that received the highest life satisfaction scores from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Better Life Index. In addition to the 34 member countries, the OECD included Brazil and Russia. The OECD rated countries on eleven categories: housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, safety, work-life balance, and life satisfaction. We used the life satisfaction index for the ranking. Additionally, we examined unemployment rates for 2013 from the International Monetary Fund.