The Grapevine

Americans Care More About Life Satisfaction Than Health Or Income, Because We Live In A First-World Country

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Americans are known to be workaholics, which is why they rank high in income and material goods, but low in work-life balance. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Americans care more about satisfaction than they do about health, a new Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study called the Better Life Initiative finds.

The study examined citizens throughout 36 different countries, asking them questions about how they prioritize income, health, satisfaction, education, work-life balance, and jobs, in the hopes of understanding whether life is getting better for society. The Better Life Initiative aims to pinpoint progress in society in ways that go beyond just GDP.

Interestingly enough, Americans didn’t value income as highly as satisfaction — which might surprise some of us who view this country as a workaholic one that worships 60-hour work weeks. Americans actually ranked satisfaction, health, education, work-life balance, the environment, safety, housing, and jobs higher than income, even though American income ranks as one of the highest in the world.

“The U.S. is slightly different from other OECD countries,” said Romina Boarini, head of the Measuring Well-Being and Progress Section at the OECD. “Things such as income and civic engagement are not necessarily rated very highly in the U.S.”

This is possibly because in the U.S., like other first-world countries, many people already have a decent level of income and it isn’t as important to survival. Developing countries, like Ukraine, have a different view: Income was ranked as more important than other aspects.

Quality Of Life vs. Income

“In rich countries, it is almost always the case that people rate income as not being very important,” Boarini said. “What it means is, when you have satisfied your basic needs in terms of income, you tend to believe there are things that matter much more than income. In very wealthy countries, people are not concerned by income anymore. They want quality of life.”

She added that people in richer countries crave life satisfaction and social connection more so than income. “It’s not that income does not matter, it’s just much less [important] than in poor countries,” she said.

However, despite ranking as No. 1 for housing and income/wealth, the U.S. ranked much lower than other countries for work-life balance (getting 29th place out of 36 places), education (19th place), and environmental quality (also 19th place). Because most American workers have long hours, they’re less able to attend to work-life balance and personal care compared to other more laid-back and leisurely countries. In addition, our education falls far below other countries, particularly among young people.

“What we see for the United States, performance is really excellent in [indices] such as income, wealth, and housing and all the essential material aspects of well-being,” Boarini said. “But where things don’t go very well is actually work-life balance, because Americans work a lot. They really don’t compare very well with other OECD countries.”

So there you have it. It's very possible that Americans rank life satisfaction higher than income, because we already have income, but we have less leisure, personal care time, and satisfaction in our workaholic lives than people in other countries.

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