I’ve written a few times on measures of wellbeing on Troppo. For instance here and here. (In fact, reviewing it, I can’t find both of my articles for New Matilda on the Australia Institute’s GPI, so here they both are (pdf).) As ever Troppo was hip before the world caught up, but catch up it has and now everyone and their dog is getting a wellbeing index.
The French had a few Nobel Laureates drop in, the Canadians are off and running and the UK Conservatives (a tribute to Tony Blair as the Rudd/Gillard Govt has been a tribute to John Howard) want their index of wellbeing. And the OECD has just launched a very natty website where you can run the numbers on all the OECD countries over eleven thematic areas.
When you get into trying to set these indices up various things jump out at you. The first is the mountain of literature on it all. Another is the many different methodologies you can employ – should you measure things ‘objectively’ or ‘subjectively’? Then there’s how they relate to each other – are the measures commensurate? And if you’ve got several measures of some aspect, how should they be aggregated and do they make sense together? It’s amazing how much the various indicators are just added up and given equal weight. Still it’s hard to think of any obviously superior approaches.
Anyway, the prompt for this post was reading the approach on the new OECD website to measuring health. The OECD have used the women’s clothing store Susan’s slogan “this goes with that”. They’ve slapped together two simple measures – and why not one objective one and one subjective one? The first is life-expectancy at birth and the second is self-reported health status. Sounds fair enough. The problem is that a predominant influence on self reported health status is age. So those countries with older populations report lower health. There are other things going on of course, but ageing is obviously a large part of the self-reported health index. Japan which has the highest life expectancy at birth – a whopping 82 – and which has major ageing issues has the second lowest reported health status. By contrast, Australia has high life expectancy but relatively low ageing, at least compared with some of our OECD peers. The ageing Mediterranean countries are likewise high on the life expectancy index and low on the self-reported health index. I would have liked to see the self reported health index corrected for age.