Quality of life is a pretty nebulous concept. There’s a lot of coffee-table chat about which places have the best quality of life, but is it really possible to measure it objectively?
Well, yes it is, an one way to do it is to do what a team from The University of Arizona and Washington State University have just done.
They began by assuming that ‘Quality of Life’ is a thing that has effects and causes. It basically sits in between them as a mediating factor. They used a sophisticated model to unpick the relationships (if any) between these effects (in their model, these were life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate and suicide rate) and a basket of factors that might feasibly cause differences in life quality.
They found eight factors had a significant effect on quality of life: divorce rate, public health expenditure, doctor/population ratio; per capita GDP; food supply; female and male adult literacy rate, and population with access to safe drinking water. The model crunched all these, along with the effects, and spat out a Quality of Life rating for the 43 countries they analysed.
Belgium came out top, followed by France, Denmark, Spain and Germany. The USA came in 7th, and the UK was 11th. Bottom of the pile was Sri Lanka, the Dominican Republic and, at lucky number 43, El Salvador.
So I took their data and plotted it against the World Values Survey data on how important God is in people’s lives. And this is what the plot looks like.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the top nations tended to be the least religious (unfortunately there’s no data on this variable for Belgium or a bunch of the other nations, which is why some are missing).
This analysis joins all the others – the least religious countries are more democratic, more peaceful, have less corruption, more telephones, do better at science, have less inequality and other problems, and are generally just less dysfunctional.
Cue discussion over which causes what!
Rahman, T., Mittelhammer, R., & Wandschneider, P. (2011). Measuring quality of life across countries: A multiple indicators and multiple causes approach Journal of Socio-Economics, 40 (1), 43-52 DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2010.06.002