Approaches to measuring well-being

There are a number of different approaches to monitoring well-being through dedicated reports. GDP per capita is commonly used as a proxy measure for the overall well-being of countries. Other commonly-cited indicators of national progress include poverty, unemployment levels, infant mortality, life expectancy, educational attainment, crime figures and air quality. These provide information on outcomes that may not be accurately captured by GDP per capita, but which are important to well-being.

Nonetheless, it can be difficult to compile a coherent overall picture of well-being from a disparate range of measures. One approach is to develop composite indices, such as in the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI),1 which combines information on life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling, expected years of schooling and gross national income per capita, to produce a single overall figure. Alternatively, a range of indicators can be presented in a “dashboard”, such as that adopted in How’s Life? (OECD, 2011a) or the various sets of sustainable development indicators available, such as those in the EU sustainable development strategy (Eurostat, 2009), or Measuring New Zealand’s Progress Using a Sustainable Development Approach (Statistics New Zealand, 2008).

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