Quality of Life: Research, Index, by Country

6 Dimensions of Quality of Life

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Quality of life is about more than just a standard of living. Photo: Jade and Bertrand Maitre/Getty Images

Definition: Quality of life is the general well-being of a person. It has six dimensions: physical, emotional, independence, social, material, and meaning or spiritual. On a subjective level, it measures a person's satisfaction with, and connection to, these dimensions, and a sense that he or she has some ability to affect them. The most precise and exhaustive delineation of these six dimensions is done by the World Health Organization in Measuring Quality of Life.

Quality of life includes, but is more than, the standard of living. That only measures the material dimension, usually using GDP per capita.  Here's more Quality of Life Definitions

Quality of Life Research

Quality of life has been exhaustively studied in healthcare. MediciNet defines it as the patient's ability to enjoy normal life activities. These definitions recognize that some medical treatments save a person's life (reducing mortality and morbidity) but reduce the quality of life to a point where it seems hardly worth it. By treating total quality of life, doctors can recommend treatments that are more likely to improve both.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines it as an individual’s or group’s perceived physical and mental health over time. According to the CDC, a poor quality of life may lead to poor mental nutrition, obesity, and smoking. These are all risk factors for the leading U.S. killers--chronic diseases such as diabetes, breast cancer, and hypertension.

Quality of Life Measures 

The CDC developed the Healthy Days questionnaire to measure physical and mental health status. The survey is used to measure healthcare across populations, to prevent diseases, and to show how quality of life is related to preventable chronic diseases.

The World Health Organization developed its quality of life questionnaire to be useful across countries, cultures and health status.

Its primary goal is in improving healthcare. The data collected can also be used in research, and in improving public health policies. Here's more on the WHOQOL.

Quality of Life Index

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) uses 11 components to rank quality of life for its 34 members. These include housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work/life balance. The scores are compiled from 27 measurements that the OECD compiles. 

The Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIA) published its Quality of Life Index in 2005. It started with the Life Satisfaction survey used by the European Union, which asked: "On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied, or not at all satisfied with the life you lead?" 

It then uses sophisticated research techniques (regression analysis) that found nine measurable indicators that occur (were highly correlated) with high satisfaction scores. These are:

  1. Material Well-being (standard of living): GDP per capita.
  2. Health: Life expectancy at birth.
  3. Safety: Political stability and security ratings.
  4. Family: Divorce rate.
  5. Community: Church attendance or union membership.
  1. Climate: Latitude.
  2. Job Security: Unemployment rate.
  3. Freedom: Political and civil liberty indices.
  4. Gender Equality: Ratio of male to female earnings.

Material well-being accounted for half of a person's satisfaction. The Economist also looked at education levels, income inequality and a country's rate of GDP growth. Surprisingly, it found that these did not affect people' satisfaction with their lives. 

Quality of Life by Country

The OECD's 2013 Better Life Index ranked the top ten countries as Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Switzerland, United States, Finland, Netherlands and New Zealand. The bottom ten were (worst first) Turkey, Mexico, Greece, Russia, Brazil, Chile, Hungary, Portugal, Estonia, and Poland.  Remember, only its 34 members were included.

The EIA's Quality of Life Index ranked these ten countries the highest: Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Australia, Iceland, Italy, Denmark, and Spain.

The United States came in at number 13. The ten countries that ranked at the bottom (worst first) were Zimbabwe, Haiti, Tanzania, Nigeria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Botswana, Kyrgyz Republic, and Turkmenistan.