The Countries Where People Have The Best Well-Being In The World

Money isn’t everything. Nations that have better work-life balance, health care, and education offer the best quality of life.

Our quality of life isn’t just about how much money we earn but also how much leisure time we have, the environment we live in, our access to health care and education, and a slew of other factors. In assessing where people are living best, we need to account for more than wages and gross domestic product, though these are obviously important.


The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s latest “How’s Life?” survey analyzes living standards across 11 areas, covering 36 of the richest countries in the world. It shows that while there’s a strong correlation between GDP and life satisfaction, richer countries also have plenty of weaknesses in how they are looking after their people. For example, the U.S. has high levels of financial wealth overall, but scores comparatively poorly for work-life balance, childhood poverty, and personal safety.

Overall, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and Denmark come top, with Mexico, Turkey, and Chile at the bottom. The U.S. comes in 7th after Canada. The OECD produces a nice interactive tool to go with its data, allowing you to weight each of the 11 factors based on what you think is important. Here are all 36 countries ranked with the indicators weighted equally:

And here are the same countries with “work-life balance” and “life satisfaction” emphasized to the maximum extent:

And here’s what it looks like with “jobs” and “income” emphasized (see the U.S. in first place):


The OECD says life has generally been getting better in most member countries, except the lowly-performing ones like Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy where earnings and wealth are going backwards in real terms. The Nordic countries, at the top of the ranking, distinguish themselves by having both high incomes and relatively low inequality across gender and age groups. Compared to other richer countries, they achieve a wider distribution of wealth, well-being, and life satisfaction.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.