Overall, well-being has improved over the past two centuries, but not always in the ways or for the reasons we might have thought. The Industrial Revolution sometimes meant workers were worse off and worse fed than before, for example.

Click to enlarge. By StiK, especially for the OECD Observer.

©OECD/Marco Illuminati

Eight giant balloons from Japan floated in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on the weekend of 30 August, a reminder of one of the worst natural disasters of recent times–and of the determination of survivors to rebuild their region.

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Doug Anthony signs the accession agreement to the OECD, with US Secretary of State William P. Rogers and OECD Secretary-General Emile Van Lennep © Sabine Weiss

Australia is not a founding member of the OECD, which was created in 1961. Rather, its decision to seek membership was only taken after ten years of intermittent debate.

Time progresses inexorably. Six years have already elapsed since the onset of the global financial crisis, and employment in many countries is still far below its pre-2008 levels. Even for people who still have jobs, working conditions have deteriorated. Until recently, we were decrying a jobless recovery, but now the data suggest that growth itself may be fading in several countries. The conversation has become one of job losses among family and friends, as everyone feels exposed to cutbacks at work, falling wages, falling activity, insecurity, and the task of simply trying to make ends meet.

We encourage the OECD and other global bodies to provide greater focus on reporting non-GDP based measures alongside GDP per capita when comparing the progress of nations so that this methodology can become more mainstream.

Back in middle school, my classmates and I used to make up a game called “Anywhere but here” to while away the time during cover lessons and study hall. It involved closing your eyes, flicking through an atlas, and randomly pointing your finger at a map. Then you had to invent an elaborate story about your life in wherever you would end up.

Eric Abetz, Australian Minister for Employment, and Chair of the 2014 G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting ©Australian Government

The world economy is still suffering from the strains of the longest crisis of modern times, and nowhere is this more evident than in the high unemployment numbers. Over 100 million people are out of work in the G20 countries, with joblessness at historically high levels in several of them. Long-term and youth unemployment, and low female participation, pose particular challenges.

Even in countries where recovery has begun to take hold, the reduction in joblessness has been frustratingly slow, and all too often achieved via low-skill, low-paying jobs. Resilient, inclusive and smart societies need more.

Policymakers have a key role to play in introducing the reforms and measures needed to improve labour markets and bring unemployment back down. In this OECD Observer Roundtable, we asked a cross-section of ministers:

“What actions are you taking to create more and better jobs in your economy?”

©OECD Observer Roundtable No 12.

© Lionel Bonaventure/AFP PHOTO

The French are noted for their good living as well as a relatively long life span. It’s the so-called French paradox. The southwest in particular is said to have relatively more centenarians than anywhere else in the country. 

For international Blog Action Day, which this year focussed on income inequality, Brian Keeley from the OECD examines the evolution of inequality over time.

Yesterday was the UN International Day of Older Persons and the theme this year is “Leaving No-One Behind: Promoting a Society for All”. Monika Queisser, head of the Social Policy Division in the OECD’s Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate, argues that the best policy for older people must focus on the young.

You say working longer in life is becoming part of a trend, and that it is becoming "more normative to keep working" past normal retirement ("Older candidates, please apply" in OECD Yearbook 2014, www.oecd.org/yearbook). But that does not mean a formal retirement age should be allowed to disappear. Just like a schoolgoing age or a voting age, a retirement age gives signals to guide policymaking as well as personal life decisions.

Immigration became a heated subject of debate during the European Parliament elections in May 2014. Economists are now asking whether anti-immigrant sentiment can be attributed to fiscal, as well as social, factors.

Launching the ball: Pelé (right) with Brazil’s minister of sport, Aldo Rebelo ©OECD

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death…
I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” This phrase by Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of Liverpool Football Club, has become immortal for football obsessives of the “beautiful game” (or o jogo bonito as Brazilians call soccer).

If you feel like happiness is the truth, you might be well poised to stop clapping along with Pharrell Williams, and start seeking out a new place to settle up north. While Switzerland topped the list of the happiest OECD countries in 2012, the high ranks were dominated by the Nordic circle of Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark.

Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills ©Beawiharta Beawiharta/Reuters

What teachers–and the rest of us–can learn from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).

"Each year about one-third of all the food produced globally ends up wasted even as hundreds of millions of people go hungry."

Dementia is a devastating condition for which there is no cure available. Care is costly, financially and emotionally. The cost for health systems is likely to rise in ageing societies. The condition damages the brain, and leads to a decline in a person’s functional and cognitive capabilities.

Click to enlarge

Optimism has proved to be another major victim of the economic crisis, according to How’s Life? Indeed, people’s long-term expectations about their subjective well-being fi ve years from now have deteriorated almost everywhere in the OECD area. And most of them don’t expect things to get much better. 

©Ralph Freso/Reuters

One of the earliest citations of the phrase “print is dead” comes from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, but almost 30 years later, print is certainly not dead. Print publishing still drives on average 80% of revenues and close to 100% of the profits for general trade publishers. But among reference and science, technical and medical (STM) publishers, digital publishing was embraced quickly and openly at the expense of print. 

While green growth has been paid a great deal of lip service by policymakers, business leaders and other stakeholders, few concrete strategies have been put in place. Perhaps surprisingly, even in agriculture, most OECD countries still do not have solid plans in place for pursuing green growth in this sector. 

Countries are not doing as well as they could in the battle against cancer, according to Cancer Care: Assuring Quality to Improve Survival. Cancer remains one of the leading health care challenges in all OECD countries, where more than 5 million new cases are diagnosed every year. 

©Rory Clarke

Imagine a house that keeps itself warm in the wintertime. Think of the savings in terms of fuel bills and unfriendly emissions. Such houses in fact exist. Called “passive houses”, the concept of these highly energy-efficient buildings took root in the 1990s, before slowly consolidating as a niche construction concept in the 2000s. Are passive houses now actively moving into the mainstream as sustainable buildings? 

Classrooms need to be places for teaching creativity, as well as basic competence. Can it be done? 

How do our young students perform at school compared with their peers in other countries? Are they ready and equipped to take on the world of tomorrow? The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which surveys competence among 15 year olds around the world, gives ground for encouragement. 

©Ammar Awad

Tourism has shown remarkable staying power in recent years. Despite political instability, wars, natural disasters and a global financial crisis, the industry keeps getting up for another round. Japan is good example. After the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident, the number of visitors to the country plunged. But in 2013 more than 9 million tourists visited the country, a record high. 

© Aly Song/Reuters

In a global economy, the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing school systems internationally. Latest results from the PISA assessment, the world’s metric for evaluating learning outcomes at school, issued 3 December, show striking changes in the world’s talent. 

Some 21% of workers are over-qualified for the jobs they do. This is a key finding in the first edition of the OECD Skills Outlook, which reports on a survey of skills among 157,000 adults in 24 countries and regions.

Here’s a sobering statistic: in around 20 of the world’s wealthiest countries, at least one in 10 adults can make sense of only basic texts. Ask them a question based on a piece of writing, and they’ll be able to answer only if the text is short, uses simple vocabulary and provides clues by repeating words used in the question. 

Click to enlarge

Everyone needs to be sufficiently financially literate to take informed decisions for themselves and their families as to their savings, investments, pensions and more. But in many countries, women have lower financial knowledge than men, and are less confident in their financial knowledge and skills.

Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría discusses the uncertainty in politics around the world, lack of proper skills for future jobs, global growth and US-Mexico relations.
  • Green Talks on 3D printing: 3D printing may be growing rapidly and innovations abound, but what does this mean for the environment? Click on the picture to join Shardul Agrawala of the OECD Environment Directorate on 27 February at 13:00 CET to discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of widespread 3D printing.
  • How should pension systems account for gender differences and deliver equitable pensions for women and men? Do differences in financial literacy between men and women impact their long-term well-being? These are some of the questions to be debated at an OECD-hosted conference taking place on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017