How the United States ranks within the OECD Better Life Index

For a country with so much wealth, it seems counterintuitive that the United States ranks more or less in the middle of the road in comparison to other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries on most of the “topics” of the OECD’s Better Life Index.  These topics are: housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance.

The United States ranks highest on the income scale and of course it has the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world (not including the European Union), so this is not much of a surprise.  What we also know though is that if income inequality was considered as a main topic, the rankings would likely appear to be very different.  Although the OECD considers social inequality as part of its indicators which is likely related to income inequality, perhaps the OECD should consider give income inequality greater weight in determining its future rankings.

The USA also ranks very highly on housing.  Sure, a middle class American can probably afford a 3 bedroom bungalow, well, with dual incomes, depending on the location.  The OECD topic of housing is evaluated in terms of having satisfactory living conditions (i.e. rooms per person, facilities) and also in terms of affordability.  This topic, however, doesn’t capture the fact that the housing market became so volatile during the Great Recession that people lost their homes and livelihoods.  This topic also really doesn’t capture the conditions for those living in subsidized housing in urban areas of the USA, for example, or the fact that if one is born poor, one is probably going to stay poor, especially if from the southern USA; but I digress.  I realize that the Better Life Index is a snapshot tool used to compare countries.  It’s just that we have to think about it critically.

In terms of the rest of the topics — jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance, the USA ranks more or less in the interquartile range or so of all OECD countries; sometimes better and sometimes worse, depending on the topic.  Does this seem surprising?  Perhaps for wealthy Americans who on an individual basis would rank themselves highly in the above OECD topics, it is surprising.

OECD Better Life Index – Income — from


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