The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

29 December 2007

How to measure the quality of life in your country

The well-being or quality of life of a population is an important measure of progress. It is not just the standard of living which can be measured by the amount of money people have and access to services. But it also includes much less easily quantifiable factors such as freedom, happiness, human creativity, health, quality of the environment and other factors. Here are three indexes which seek to measure a country’s quality of life:

The physical quality-of-life index which is a really simple way of estimating the quality of life in a country. The value is derived from these three measures:
1. The basic literacy rate, (percentage of the population that is literate)
2. The infant mortality (number of children dying out of every 1000 births)
3. The life expectancy at age one.
The figures are then adjusted and added together to create a single figure which estimates the quality of life in that country, which can be compared with figures for other countries.

The UN Human Development Index is slightly more complicated, but now more widely used. It combines these three factors:
1. A long and healthy life, as measured by life expectancy at birth.
2. Knowledge, as measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weighting) plus the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary education enrollment ratio (with one-third weighting).
3. Standard of living, as measured by the country’s gross domestic product per capita adjusted to allow for purchasing power parity.
The top ten countries in 2007-08 were Iceland, Norway, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Netherlands and France. The bottom 24 countries were all African with Sierra Leone right at the bottom.
The Human Poverty Index is the opposite of this and also calculated by the UN Development Programme. Different methods of compiling this index are used depending on the country’s level of development. For developing countries it combines these factors:
1. The probability at birth of not surviving to age 40
2. The adult illiteracy rate
3. The percentage of the population without sustainable access to an improved water source
4. Children under weight for age at age 3.
In 2006, Niger was bottom, with Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad close behind.

A completely other approach is to try to measure the happiness of the population.

The New Economics Foundation in the UK tried to develop a measure of happiness which it calls the Happy Planet Index. This is compiled from measures of personal life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth and the country’s ecological footprint. The best-scoring countries in 2006 were Vanuatu followed by Colombia and Cost Rica. At the bottom of the list were Burundi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe:

The King of Bhutan adopted a policy of Gross National Happiness for his country:


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