Canada performs exceptionally well in measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top countries in a large number of topics in the Better Life Index.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Canada, the average household earned 27 015 USD in 2008, more than the OECD average.
In terms of employment, nearly 72% of people aged 15 to 64 in Canada have a paid job. People in Canada work 1699 hours a year, less than most in the OECD. 71% of mothers are employed after their children begin school, suggesting that women are able to successfully balance family and career.
Having a good education is an important requisite to finding a job. In Canada, 87% of adults aged 25 to 64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school diploma, much higher than the OECD average. Canada is a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system. The average student scored 524 out of 600 in reading ability according to the latest PISA student-assessment programme, higher than the OECD average.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Canada is 80.7 years, more than one year above the OECD average. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 15 micrograms per cubic meter, and is lower than levels found in most OECD countries.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community but only moderate levels of civic participation in Canada. 95% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, higher than the OECD average of 91%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens' participation in the political process, was 60% during recent elections; this figure is lower than the OECD average of 72%. In regards to crime, only 1% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months.
When asked, 78% of people in Canada said they were satisfied with their life, much higher than the OECD average of 59%.
These findings are based on data from 2008 or later.
In many OECD countries, home ownership is an important dimension of individual well-being. It protects owners from fluctuations in rents and ensures families a stable and secure shelter. Additionally, the value of a property represents a major source of wealth for households. Over 65% of occupied dwellings in Canada are inhabited by the owners themselves, close to the OECD-23 average of 67%. In addition to measuring home ownership rates, it is also important to examine living conditions, such as the average number of rooms shared per person and whether households have access to basic facilities.The number of rooms in a dwelling, divided by the number of persons living there, indicates whether residents are living in crowded conditions. Overcrowded housing may have a negative impact on physical and mental health, relations with others and the development of children.
In addition, dense living conditions are often a sign of inadequate water and sewage supply. In Canada, the average home contains 2.5 rooms per person, more than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person and the highest rate in the OECD. In terms of basic facilities, only 0.9% of dwellings in Canada lack private access to indoor flushing toilets, much less than the OECD average of 2.8% dwellings.
While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being. Higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, healthcare and housing.Household net disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after tax. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In Canada, the average household disposable income is 27 015 USDa year, higher than the OECD average of 22 284 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. Ideally, measures of household wealth should include real assets (e.g. land and dwellings), but such information is currently available for only a small number of OECD countries. In Canada, the average household wealth is estimated at 59 479 USD, higher than the OECD average of 36 808 USD. While the ideal measure of household wealth should include real assets (e.g. land and dwellings), such information is currently available for only a small number of OECD countries.
Having a job brings many important benefits, including: providing a source of income, improving social inclusion, fulfilling one’s own aspirations, building self-esteem and developing skills and competencies. In Canada, nearly 72% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is higher than the OECD employment average of 65%.
Unemployed persons are defined as those who are not currently working but are willing to do so and actively searching for work. Long-term unemployment can have a large negative effect on feelings of well-being and self-worth and result in a loss of skills, further reducing employability. In Canada, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at 0.97%, lower than the OECD average.
Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being.A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as provide access to jobs, services and other material opportunities. In Canada, 95% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, higher than the OECD average. 66% reported having helped a stranger in the last month, the highest figure in the OECD.A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation. Socially isolated individuals face difficulties integrating into society as a contributing member and fulfilling personal aspirations. Nearly 6% of people in Canada reported ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ spending time with friends, colleagues or others in social settings; this figure is low. A well-educated and well-trained population is essential for a country’s social and economic well-being. Education plays a key role in providing individuals with the knowledge, skills and competences needed to participate effectively in society and in the economy. Most concretely, having a good education greatly improves the likelihood of finding a job and earning enough money. Across OECD countries, men with university-level degrees are 16% more likely to find jobs, and women are 30% more likely. Lifetime earnings also increase with each level of education.
Following a decline in manual labour over previous decades, employers now favour a more educated labour force. High-school graduation rates therefore provide a good indication of whether a country is preparing its students to meet the minimum requirements of the job market. In Canada, 87% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, much higher than the OECD average of 73%. Among younger people – a better indicator of Canada’s future – 92% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, again much higher than the OECD average of 80%.
But graduation rates, while important, speak little to the quality of education received. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reviews the extent to which students have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. In 2009, PISA focused on examining students’ reading ability, as research shows that reading skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school.
Canada is a top-performing OECD country in reading literacy, with the average student scoring 524 out of 600. This score is higher than the OECD average of 493, making Canada the 3rd strongest OECD country in reading skills. Additionally, students performed well in mathematics and science, with more than 11% reaching the two highest levels of proficiency.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Since 2000, Canada has become a world leader in its professionally-driven reform of its education system. Not only do its students perform well, they perform well despite their socio-economic status, first language or whether they are native Canadians or recent immigrants. In particular, Ontario’s approach to educational reform adheres to important practices, including:
Commitment to education and to children
The strong cultural commitment to education seems to be an important underlying national value that helps explain Canada’s overall strong performance despite the absence of a national governmental role in education. The commitment to the welfare of children, as expressed in Canada’s strong social safety net, helps explain why Canada’s achievement gaps, while still worrisome, are nowhere near as profound as those in the United States.
Cultural support for universal high achievement
The extraordinary performance of Canada’s immigrant children is largely a reflection of the high expectations immigrant families have for their children, and of the high expectations also held by educators as well. Because Canada has historically seen its immigrants as crucial assets for the continuing development of the country, and because its immigration policies reflect those values, schools see it as their role to integrate children into the mainstream culture as rapidly as possible. If anything, the value placed on high achievement for immigrant children seems to have positive spill over effects for expectations for native-born children, rather than vice versa.
Teacher and principal quality
Teaching has historically been a respected profession in Canada, and continues to draw its candidates from the top third of secondary school graduates. Additionally, the city of Ontario has paid special attention to leadership development, especially for school principals. In 2008 the government initiated the Ontario Leadership Strategy that spells out the skills, knowledge and attributes of effective leaders. Among the elements of the strategy are a strong mentoring programme that has now reached over 4 500l lower than in most OECD countries.
Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades, thanks to improvements in living conditions, public health interventions and progress in medical care. In 2007,life expectancy at birth in Canada stood at 80.7 years, more than one year above the OECD average of 79 years.
Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher healthcare spending per person. Total health spending accounted for 10.4% of GDP in Canada in 2008, more than one percentage point than the OECD average of 9.0%. Canada also ranks above the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, with spending of 4,079 USD in 2008 compared with an OECD average of 3,060 USD.
Between 2000 and 2008, health spending per person in Canada increased in real terms by 3.4% per year on average, a growth rate lower than the OECD average (4.2% per year). In Canada, 70.2% of health spending was funded by public sources in 2008, below the average of 72.8% in OECD countries.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases.
Canada provides an example of a country that has achieved remarkable progress in reducing tobacco consumption, with the rate of daily smokers among adults having been cut by nearly half since 1980 (from 34% in 1980 to 17.5% in 2008). Much of this decline in Canada, as well as in other countries, can be attributed to policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption through public awareness campaigns, advertising bans and increased taxation.
Obesity rates are high in Canada, relative to most OECD countries, but they have not increased substantially in the last 15 years. Two out of 3 men are overweight and 1 in 4 people are obese in Canada, but the rate of increase has been one of the slowest in the OECD. The proportion of people overweight is projected by the OECD to rise a further 5% during the next 10 years. Obesity’s growing prevalence foreshadows increases in the occurrence of health problems (such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and asthma), and higher health care costs in the future.
When asked, "How is your health in general?", 88% of people in Canada reported to be in good health, higher than the OECD average of 69%. Despite the subjective nature of this question, the answers have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future health care use.