In my last post about the OECD’s ‘better life index’ I suggested that although all well-being indicators tend to tell similar stories when wealthy countries are compared with poor countries, they may tell different stories when wealthy countries are compared to each other. If we think of the OECD as a rich nations club we might expect a great deal of variation in the stories conveyed by different well-being indicators. For example, some countries might be expected to put emphasis on health and leisure, and others to put emphasis on income and housing. However, the view of the OECD as a rich nations club is actually difficult to sustain - there is a substantial amount of variation in wealth among the countries that are now members of the OECD. So, do all well-being indicators tend to tell similar stories in OECD countries too?
My first step in looking at this question was to look at the correlation between the various ‘better life’ indicators in the OECD. In the following table the various indicators are ranked from left to right in terms of the extent to which each is correlated with the other well-being indicators. The correlation between housing, community, life satisfaction and income tends to be higher than for the other indicators.
The ranking of countries in the table reflects the performance of each country in terms of a weighted average of indicators, with weights being derived from the average correlation of each indicator with the other indicators. (Anyone requiring further explanation of the methodology is welcome to contact me.)
Does the weighting system used to rank countries in the table have any greater validity than the range of weighting systems that I looked at in my last post? I’m not making strong claims. My attempt to derive weights without making explicit value judgements might have some merit if we view well-being as analogous to a syndrome with various indicators corresponding to symptoms. If an indicator is not highly correlated with the other indicators it may not be an important component of the well-being syndrome. Alternatively, it is possible that indicators that are not correlated with other indicators might not be well constructed. For example, the OECD’s governance indicator seems somewhat lacking by comparison with the World Bank’s governance indicators. The OECD’s governance indicator does not seem to include measures of levels of corruption or quality of public administration.
After ranking countries, the next step was to highlight countries that have exceptionally good or exceptionally poor performance in terms of particular well-being indicators. For the purposes of the table, exceptionally good performance (highlighted in green) is more than one standard deviation above the mean and exceptionally poor performance (highlighted in pink) is more than one standard deviation below the mean.
Hint: Click on the table for a clearer picture.
It is clear that the countries ranked highly in the table tend to have a higher probability of exceptionally good performance on most of the indicators and that countries that are ranked towards the bottom tend to have a higher probability of exceptionally poor performance. Well-being indicators do tend to tell similar stories in OECD countries.
One of the stories that the table doesn’t tell us directly is the difference in past history of the countries with relatively high and relatively low well-being ranking. The incomes of some of the countries with relatively high rankings are not particularly high, but good housing is presumably indicative of their past history of relatively high incomes. This seems to highlight the importance of the distinction between stocks and flows. Current well-being seems to be more closely related to stocks – wealth, human capital, social capital and environmental capital – than to income flows. However, we should not neglect the important role that income (economic growth) plays in the accumulation of wealth and human capital and the important role that stocks of social capital (particularly interpersonal trust) along with institutional capital (economic freedom) play in promoting conditions for ongoing economic and social progress.