Special Report

The Happiest Countries in the World

5. Denmark
> Life satisfaction score: 7.5 (tied for 5th highest)
> Self-reported good health: 70% (17th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 2.0% (4th lowest)
> Disposable income: $24,682 (15th highest)
> Life expectancy: 79.9 years (12th lowest)

Employees in Denmark had an average full-time gross pay of $45,802, higher than all but four
other countries in the OECD. The average worker in Denmark put in just 1,522 hours annually, much lower than the OECD average of 1,776 hours. Air quality and water quality was considerably better in Denmark, compared to many other countries. Some 94% of residents indicated satisfaction with the water quality, the seventh highest of all countries and better than the 84% indicated across the OECD. The government of Denmark spends considerably to ensure the general well-being of its residents. Last year, government spending totaled 59.5% of GDP, the most of any OECD nation. The country also had the best work environment of any European nation, with more than 60% of workers reporting less severe job demands, but good available resources to complete their daily tasks. Unlike most of the countries considered by the OECd, Denmark actually became more optimistic, despite the recession.

4. Sweden
> Life satisfaction score: 7.6 (tied for 3rd highest)
> Self-reported good health: 80% (8th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 1.2% (3rd lowest)
> Disposable income: $26,242 (12th highest)
> Life expectancy: 81.9 years

According to the OECD, Sweden ranks as the top country among all nations measured in terms of protecting its environment. Swedes enjoy some of the highest quality air of any nation — as of 2009, there were just 10 micrograms of small particulate matter per cubic meter in the country’s most populous areas. Its water quality in 2012 also ranked among the highest for all countries. The nation’s residents also are among the healthiest of any nations measured. Nearly 80% of those surveyed in 2011 stated they were in good health, well above the 69% average for the OECD. Although Sweden received moderate ratings for income and jobs, it was one of Europe’s best nations for income equality, with one of the lowest Gini index scores of any country. Women working full-time earned about 14.8% less than men, which was only slightly better than the average across countries measured by the OECD. However, an estimated 63.7% of all college degrees were granted to women, one of the highest rates among countries measured.

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3. Iceland
> Life satisfaction score: 7.6 (tied for 3rd highest)
> Self-reported good health: 77% (9th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 13.5% (8th highest)
> Disposable income: $21,201 (16th lowest)
> Life expectancy: 82.4 years

Iceland residents have the strongest support networks of all countries — 98% of residents indicated they could count on friends or relatives if they needed help. Iceland residents tend to be in good health, as well, with the country’s life expectancy and self-reported health both among the top 10 of all countries. The employment rate for those between the ages of 15 and 64 was 79%, tied with Switzerland for the highest among all countries. Where Iceland did not do as well was regarding income and wealth — average disposable household income of $21,201 and average household net financial wealth of $31,182 were both lower than OECD averages. But after accounting for taxes and transfer payments, income in Iceland was more evenly distributed among residents than in other nation in the OECD. Unlike many of the happiest countries in the world, Iceland’s economy was hit relatively hard by the recession. The poverty rate increased by close to 2%, compared to an OECD-wide 0.5% increase. Employment between 2009 and 2011 declined by 3.4%.

2. Norway
> Life satisfaction score: 7.7
> Self-reported good health: 73% (14th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 2.8% (6th lowest)
> Disposable income: $31,459 (3rd highest)
> Life expectancy: 81.4 years

Norway’s employment rate for those between ages 15 and 64 was 75%, tied with the Netherlands for the third highest rate among all countries. The gross pay of full-time employees neared $44,000, the ninth highest of all OECD countries. The average household income was $31,459, higher than every country except for the United States and Luxembourg. People in Norway tend to work significantly less than those in other countries — the average worker only put in 1,426 hours of work, compared to 1,776 in all OECD countries. Less than 3% of the country’s employees worked very long hours, lower than all but five other countries. In 2012, just 3.3% of all workers were unemployed, well less than all but one other nation examined by the OECD, South Korea. As many as 96% of the country’s residents were satisfied with the water quality, tied for third highest in the OECD. Norway also ranked among the 10 best countries in terms of air quality. Norway had one of the smallest gender wage gaps in the world: Women working full-time earned just 7.8% less than men.

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1. Switzerland
> Life satisfaction score: 7.8
> Self-reported good health: 81% (7th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 5.9% (17th lowest)
> Disposable income: $30,060 (4th highest)
> Life expectancy: 82.8 years

In no other country did residents have a better sense of well-being than in Switzerland. People in the country tend to be better off financially than residents of most other countries. In 2010, the average household’s disposable income was $30,060, higher than all but three other countries. Meanwhile, the average household financial net worth in Switzerland was more than $99,000, higher than any other country except for the United States. As many as 79% of the country’s residents were employed in 2011, tied for the highest employment rate in the OECD. People in the country work just 1,632 hours annually, compared to the OECD average of 1,776. Very few residents were unemployed in 2012, when the unemployment rate was just 4.4%, lower than all but three other nations studied. During the recession, Switzerland had among the strongest job growth among any country measured by the OECD. Employment grew by 4.1% between 2007 and 2009, and by 2.7% between 2009 and 2011. While, in the OECD as a whole, employment grew by 0.5% and 0.1%, respectively, during that time.

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