The work life balance: Why money isn’t everything

9th June 2011

The new OECD lifestyle statistics are in, and it looks like people are happy! All right, some people from a survey of 34 countries that make-up the OECD membership are happy.

Modern living brings many ailments: increased risks of cancer, obesity related health problems, environmental issues, etc., but in spite of them, we seem to glide steadily through life while being extremely happy about it (I know, I'm also wondering who these people are).

And if you don't believe the various news media reports on this – the complete dataset is available from the OECD and ready to convert any sceptic.  

It seems that it's not the modern plagues that determine our happiness levels – it's more mundane things like the hours spent working, or to put it more accurately: it's the delicate work-life balance.

Therein lies the modern secret to happiness. As this article astutely observes, it's the north European countries that are best at keeping a good balance and leaving the office on time.

This isn't a new or a surprising result. The same 4-5 (mostly Scandinavian) countries have been on top of the ‘OECD happiness charts' for a long time and one in particular: Denmark. Britain can't be found in this crowd and it doesn't even make it in the top 10.  Instead, it rests at number 15, two places behind the US and their work-centred lifestyle we all love to disparage.

So what is it that makes Denmark so much better then the UK in life satisfaction terms? It's probably safe to assume it isn't the sunny weather.

They also have had their fair share of immigration problems and far-right wing politics similarly to the UK. Both countries have sea access, are members of the EU, have opted not to use the Euro and both countries are a monarchy.

So let's have a closer look at the categories that make up the OECD life balance initiative and compare.

Denmark fares better then the UK in most categories with few exceptions worth noting. 

Even though the UK income and wealth level is higher than the Danish (4.0 vs. 2.6, for UK and DK respectively) as is the personal safety level and the quality of health, Denmark is better than the UK in terms of overall life satisfaction and work – life balance (Denmark has the maximum, level 10 in both categories). Denmark also has much better access to jobs (7.1 vs. 8.4) and quality of education (6.3 vs. 6.7). What does all this mean? If the income and wealth of one country's citizens isn't too high it could mean that they pay a lot in income tax which in turn, probably reflects on the increased social welfare and education quality. It could also mean that they work less hours and earn less. This notion is supported by the total work hours data where Denmark has the second lowest time spent working while the UK has the 10th.

Money isn't everything – there is something to be said about caring for one's society and its members.

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