It may seem obvious that factors like health, education, and public safety have a bearing on quality of life. But until recently, economists didn’t see it that way. When they judged where life was best, GDP and economic growth was top of mind.
These days, however, groups like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have developed a strong focus on well-being–people’s lived experience across a range of non-economic topics. It’s no longer just about whether people are rich, but whether they feel safe walking home at night, whether they engage in the civic process, whether they can see a doctor when they need one.
As we’ve seen from several studies, focusing on anything beyond economics tends to put the U.S. at a disadvantage against the competition. Broadly speaking, European countries maintain better standards of living, statistics show, even if Americans have more money.
But even national statistics can paint a false picture. It doesn’t really make sense to talk about the whole of America as one well-being block: it’s really a mass of different experiences state-to-state. New York might have more in common with, say, Paris, than it does South Dakota.
You can see as much from the OECD’s new Regional Wellbeing Tool, which ranks 362 (richer) regions across the world, including all the U.S. states, and lets you compare one with the other. It’s a first-of-its kind project, and offers a more local picture than national studies have provided.
The upshot is that a state like Alabama has a similar well-being profile to Tabasco, in southern Mexico. Louisiana is like Estonia, and Texas is like Scotland. Prague and Tel Aviv are similar, as are New York and Luxembourg.
The findings are part of the OECD’s How’s Life? initiative, which we first covered here. The regional edition uses eight categories of indicator, including income, health, environment, and accessibility to services. Education scores, for example, are determined by the percentage of people completing secondary school. “Safety” is defined by homicide rates.
You can see from the tool that people in Hawaii live six years longer than folks in Mississippi; that Montana has the best education in the U.S. but scores fourth-bottom in terms of income; and that many states do better on income than other measures. Fifteen in all score a perfect 10 for income. But Maryland and District of Colombia get a zero for safety, Pennsylvania gets only a 5 for health, and New York scores just 6 for the environment (measured by particulate air emissions).
Few places are perfect. Take a look for yourself here.