The “Happy Country”

Page 32 

©Stefano Guzzetti/Under licence from Shutterstock

Australia is known as the “lucky country” with its sunny climes, beautiful beaches and relaxed lifestyle. But did you know that it is also a “happy” country, at least according to well-being measures?

In fact, Australia scores above average in almost all of the 11 well-being dimensions measured by the OECD Better Life Index. It does exceptionally well on the environment and health. Australians breathe some of the cleanest air, with far less of the tiny particulate matter that gets into the deepest part of the lungs than in many other countries–a PM10 level of only 13.1 micrograms per cubic metre, as opposed to the average of 20.1 micrograms for the OECD. They can expect to live up to 82 years of age, compared with an average of 80 years in the OECD. And as well as being healthy, they score highly on civic engagement, thanks largely to the compulsory voting system: 93% of Australians turned out to vote in the most recent general elections, the highest percentage in the OECD.


Australia’s regions are also happy. In fact, according to the OECD’s new Regional Well-Being, all eight Australian states rank among the best 20% of all 362 regions studied around the world in civic engagement, environment and income. And Canberra, the Capital Territory, ranks first in Australia, beating the other regions in six of the nine well-being dimensions. Even the low-performing regions still fare better than the OECD average in most of the well-being indicators.

But it is not a perfect score sheet. There is wide inequality between the Australian regions, especially in health and safety where the country ranks fourth and fifth worst in terms of disparities. Education is also a problem in some regions, as the share of workers with at least a secondary diploma living in the lowest performing Australian regions is 8 percentage points lower than the OECD average.

Perhaps the most surprising result of all is Australia’s low score in work-life balance. More than 14% of Australian employees work for more than 50 hours per week, much more than the OECD average of almost 9%. This hardly squares with the country’s reputation for an easy and leisurely lifestyle, a fact that has been picked up by the Australian users of the Better Life Index, ranking work-life balance as the most important factor for a better life.

Has Australia always been happy?

A recent OECD report, How Was Life?, shows that even in the 19th century, Australia was already the place to be. Along with western Europe, Canada and the United States, Australia profited greatly from the technological changes unleashed by the Industrial Revolution. As expected for a newly formed British colony, it had one of the lowest GDP per capita in the developed world of 1820, but was already flourishing in other aspects of well-being. Australians at the time were taller than people in Europe, reflecting better nutrition and less disease. Australia was, and still is, one of the safest places to live, even when involved in conflicts, such as the Second World War. And even back then it was one of the best countries for gender equality, as women in Australia were among the first in the world to gain the right to vote, and did not suffer from the wide gender gap in education that was present in most other developed countries up until the 1950s.

In short, while the sun and beaches probably contribute to Australians’ happiness, they have many other reasons to feel happy about their country.


Justin Dupré-Harbord


OECD (2014), How’s Life in Your Region? Measuring Regional and Local Well-being for Policy Making, OECD Publishing, Paris.

van Zanden, J.L., et al. (eds.) (2014), How Was Life?: Global Well-being since 1820, OECD Publishing, Paris.

© OECD Observer No 300, Q3 2014

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

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

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • 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.
  • 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 .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

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 2019