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What Countries Offer the Best Quality of Life?

16 January, 2012 15:28  Erin Erin

Colorful houses of Copenhagen © Elena Zarubina - Fotolia.comAn overall "quality of life" is incredibly hard to determine as different people have different values and priorities. Is free time the most important? Or the cost of living? But what good is free time if there are a lack of employment or education opportunities? Surveys and studies abound, but what actually makes a place the best?


The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) believes they have the answers. Established in 1961, this organization seeks to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. They do this by providing a forum in which governments can work together to share statistics, evaluate issues, and find solutions to common problems. Their site offers comparative data for quality of housing, salaries, levels of education, and more.

Work-Life Balance

Their latest rankings evaluate the balance between work and daily living. This is important not only for the happiness of the people, but for the growth of a nation. Families are the most affected by inequalities in the balance as some couples would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could afford to stop working. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.

Employment Rate of Women with Children

Finding a good work/life balance is also a critical issue for child well-being, as children with two working parents are three times less likely to grow up in poverty than children with just one. A good work-family balance also reduces parental stress, and thus benefits both parent-child and parent-parent relationships.

Employees Working Long Hours

Another important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress.

Time devoted to Leisure and Personal Care

The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people's overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits. The average person in the OECD works 1739 hours a year and devotes nearly 64 percent of their day, or 15 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping) and leisure (socializing with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use).

Podium with golden trophy © 3d brained - Fotolia.comRankings

    Top 10
  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Netherlands
  4. Finland
  5. Belgium
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. Germany
  9. Portugal
  10. France
    Bottom 10
  1. Poland
  2. Italy
  3. Ireland
  4. Australia
  5. Chile
  6. South Korea
  7. Israel
  8. Japan
  9. Mexico
  10. Turkey


To determine the countries with the best balance, the OECD used 3 chief variables:

  • Share of the labor force that works very long hours (more than 50 hours a week)
  • Time spent on "leisure and personal care" (defined in contrast to paid or unpaid work as spending time with friends, going to the movies, pursuing hobbies, sleeping, eating, etc.)
  • Employment rates for women who have children

This combination meant that countries like the United States, which leads most of the world in share of mothers who are working, lagged in leisure time and share of overworked employees. The US is the only OECD country without a national paid parental leave policy. Spain lags in female employment with only 75 percent of mothers go back to work only 8 years after childbirth. This is contrary to the Netherlands where Dutch women work almost 2 hours more per day than men. It is also surprising that the UK does not crack the ranking of the top 10. In another quality of life ranking by Uswitch of European Nations, the UK rank near the end as they have fewer days holiday, endure below average government spending on education, and a high cost of living.

OECD Work-Life Balance Report


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