Special Report

The Happiest Countries in the World

5. Austria
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5
> Employment rate: 72% (8th highest)

> Self-reported good health: 69% (17th lowest)
> Employees working long hours: 9.02% (10th highest)
> Disposable income: $27,541 (7th highest)
> Educational attainment: 82% (tied-12th highest)
> Life expectancy: 80.7 (22nd lowest)

Austria stands out in many economic categories. Ranking within the top 10 in both employment rate and disposable income, the Austrians have certainly had some measure of financial success. Disposable income, in particular, stands out as a strong factor in happiness for Austrians. The country’s average annual disposable income is $27,541, while OECD nations average $22,387. This disparity may be in part attributable to the number of citizens working in excess of 50 hours a week, which, at 9.02%, ranks 10th among OECD nations.

4. Switzerland
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5
> Employment rate: 79% (1st highest)
> Self-reported good health: 87% (4th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 5.87% (17th highest)
> Disposable income: $27,756 (5th most)
> Educational attainment: 87% (8th highest)
> Life expectancy: 82.6 (2nd highest)

The most salient statistic with respect to well-being for the fourth ranked country on the list is employment. Switzerland tops the list in terms of working age employment rate at a whopping 79%. Switzerland also cracks the top five in three other categories: disposable income ($27,756), self-reported good health (87%) and life expectancy (82.6 years). Given these stellar numbers, it is easy to see why, according to the U.S. Department of State, “Switzerland consistently ranks high on quality of life indices.” The Swiss also have very high rates of insurance coverage and computer and Internet usage.

3. Netherlands
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5
> Employment rate: 75% (3rd highest)
> Self-reported good health: 77% (11th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 0.68% (2nd lowest)
> Disposable income: $25,740 (13th highest)
> Educational attainment: 73% (15th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 80.8 (14th highest)

The Dutch government is heavily involved in internal economic affairs, playing a “significant role … pertaining to almost every aspect of economic activity,” according to the U.S. Department of State. Of those employed, only 0.68% work longer than 50 hours a week — the second-lowest percentage among those surveyed. By contrast, 10.86% of U.S. workers eclipse the 50 hour mark. The Dutch also rank among the top 15 in self-reported good health, life expectancy and disposable income.

2. Norway
> Life satisfaction score: 7.6
> Employment rate: 75% (tied, 3rd highest)
> Self-reported good health: 80% (8th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 2.66% (5th lowest)
> Disposable income: $30,465 (3rd highest)
> Educational attainment: 81% (tied-15th highest)
> Life expectancy:81.2 (10th highest)

Of all the nations examined in the OECD’s report, Norway is among the most financially secure. Of working-age adults, 75% are employed — the third-best rate. Also, the average household disposable income is $30,645, the third highest among OECD nations. Norway also significantly outspends almost all other surveyed nations on health care, allocating $5,003 per person per year. This is well above the average for OECD nations of $3,060 per person per year. Norway also has one of the healthiest populations, with a life expectancy of 81.2 years and 80% claiming to be in “good” or “very good” health. Showcasing its economic strength, Norway is able to provide quality public health and education services while maintaining a budget surplus of 162.5% of GDP and an AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s Rating Services.

1. Denmark
> Life satisfaction score: 7.8
> Employment rate: 73% (6th highest)
> Self-reported good health: 71% (17th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 1.92% (4th lowest)
> Disposable income: $23,213 (15th lowest)
> Educational attainment: 76% (18th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 79.3 (11th lowest)

Denmark tops the OECD ranking as the country with the most satisfied citizens among the countries studied by the OECD. At first glance, the reason is not obvious. Denmark ranks no higher than fourth in any of the categories that appear to correlate strongly with overall satisfaction. Yet, in addition to the OECD, organizations such as the World Map of Happiness and the World Database of Happiness have consistently put Denmark at the top of their list of the world’s happiest countries. A high employment rate of 73% and a low percentage of 1.92% of employees working long hours contribute to high satisfaction levels. But overall, it is hard to pin down why those Danes are so darn happy.

Michael B. Sauter

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