How Well Off Are Americans?


Many Americans believe the US is the best country in the world. This would surprise many from other countries who enter the US via its crumbling airports, ride on its 19th century trains, or drive on its clogged and potholed highways. So exactly how well off is the US? To give a partial answer to this question, the recently released Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) Better Life Index data for 2017 is useful.

The OECD Dimensions

As indicated in the following figure, the OECD uses 10 quality of life dimensions to rate countries with further breakdowns under each.

Source: OECD

In order to make meaningful comparisons, The OECD scores were converted into 1 – 5 rankings, with 5 being best. The totals are presented in Table 1. In is notable that overall, the US ends up in the middle of the countries. It does well on housing, income, jobs, pollution and health and badly on civic engagement, safety and life satisfaction.

Some of these indices warrant further discussion and that is done below.

Table 1. – OECD Rankings

Source: OECD

Income and Wealth

When it comes to the relationship between income and wealth, the US is in a class by itself, with its wealth at 300% of its income. This is possibly a counter to the fact that its government support network is not as strong as those of other countries so its citizens know they have to save more. Looking at the countries at the bottom of this list makes it clear just how well off US citizens are.

Table 2. – Income and Wealth

Source: OECD


The OECD pollution index consists of two measures: air and water quality. It turns out they are negatively correlated: countries with high air pollution have good water quality. The countries with the worst air are Korea, Poland, South Africa, Israel, Slovak Republic, Czech Republic and Turkey. The countries with the worst water quality are Brazil, Israel, Turkey, Mexico and Russia. The US has a good air quality rating but only an average water quality rating.

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