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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 net-adjusted disposable income is 28 194 USD a year, more than the OECD average of 23 047 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn more than five times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, over 72% of people aged 15 to 64 in Canada have a paid job, more than the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 75% of men are in paid work, compared with 69% of women. People in Canada work 1 702 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. Some 4% of employees work very long hours, much lower than the OECD average of 9%, with 6% of men working very long hours compared with just 1% for women.
Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In Canada, 88% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, well above the OECD average of 74%. This is truer of women than of men, as 87% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 90% of women. This reverses the OECD average picture, where men are slightly more likely to have graduated high school. Canada is a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system. The average student scored 527 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is higher than the OECD average of 497, making Canada one of the strongest OECD countries in students’ skills. On average in Canada, girls outperformed boys by 6 points, lower than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Canada is 81 years, one year higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 83 years, compared with 79 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 16 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably lower than the OECD average of 22 micrograms per cubic meter. Canada also does well in terms of water quality, as 89% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, more than the OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community but only moderate levels of civic participation in Canada, where 94% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, higher than the OECD average of 90%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 61% during recent elections; this figure is lower than the OECD average of 72%. There is little difference in voting levels across society; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is 63% and for the bottom 20% it is 60%, a much smaller difference than the OECD average gap of 12 percentage points and suggesting there is broad inclusion in Canada’s democratic institutions.
In general, Canadians are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 82% of people saying they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 80%.
OECD in Action
OECD Economic Surveys: Canada 2012
Most Canadian high school students do well, independent of family background, their first language or whether they were born in Canada. Ontario illustrates the factors behind the success of Canada's education policy.Read this report
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Canada in Detail
Housing – Canada expand
Living in satisfactory housing conditions is one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family. All of these elements help make a house a home. And of course there is the question whether people can afford adequate housing.
Housing costs take up a large share of the household budget and represent the largest single expenditure for many individuals and families, by the time you add up elements such as rent, gas, electricity, water, furniture or repairs. In Canada, households on average spend 22% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, slightly above the OECD average of 21%.
In addition to housing costs 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. In Canada, 90% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, more than the OECD average of 87%. This level of subjective satisfaction reflects Canada’s good performance in objective housing indicators.
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 children’s development. In addition, dense living conditions are often a sign of inadequate water and sewage supply. In Canada, the average home contains 2.6 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, 99.8% of people in Canada live in dwellings with private access to an indoor flushing toilet, more than the OECD average of 97.8%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Income – Canada expand
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-adjusted 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 net-adjusted disposable income is 28 194 USD a year, higher than the OECD average of 23 047 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In Canada, the average household net financial wealth is estimated at 63 852 USD, much higher than the OECD average of 40 516 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.
Despite a general increase in living standards across OECD countries over the past fifteen years, not all people have benefited from this to the same extent. In Canada, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 55 718 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 10 526 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Canada expand
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 66%. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in Canada an estimated 81% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 47% for those without an upper secondary education. This 34 percentage point difference is slightly smaller than the OECD average of 37 percentage points and suggests the job market in Canada is relatively inclusive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In Canada, 69% of women have jobs. This is more than the OECD average of 60% and relatively close to the 75% employment rate of men in Canada. This 6 percentage point gender difference is much smaller than the OECD average of 12 percentage points and suggests Canada has generally been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face in accessing work.
Young Canadians aged 15-24 face an unemployment rate of 14.2% compared with the OECD average of 16.2%.
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 1.0%, much lower than the OECD average of 3.1%. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment. This is true in Canada, where the long-term unemployment rate for men and women is nearly the same at respectively 1.1% and 0.9%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In Canada, people earn 42 253 US dollars per year on average, more than the OECD average of 34 466 USD. Not everyone earns that amount however. Whereas the top 20% of the population earn 58 316 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on 24 547 USD per year.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Employees working on temporary contracts are more vulnerable than workers with an open-ended contract. In Canada, around 11% of total employees have a contract of 6 months or less, slightly higher than the average of 10% for 30 OECD countries. This figure suggests greater stabilisation of working contracts could be encouraged for Canadian employees.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Canada expand
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. Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society. On average, people in Canada spend 2 minutes per day in volunteering activities, lower than the OECD average of 4 minutes per day. Conversely, 64% reported having helped a stranger in the last month, more than the OECD average of 48%.
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, 94% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, more than the OECD average of 90%. There is a 3 percentage point difference between men and women, as 96% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 93% of women. While gender has little impact on social network support, there is a relationship between the availability of social support on the one hand, and people’s education level on the other. In Canada, around 97% of people who have completed only primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to 93% for people who attained tertiary education. Canada is one of four countries where the less educated report more social connections than the more educated.
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.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Insights: Human Capital
Education – Canada expand
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, 83% of people with university-level degrees have a job, compared with just below 56% for those with only a secondary school diploma. 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, 88% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 74%. Across the OECD, slightly more men aged 25-64 have the equivalent of a high-school degree compared with women from the same age group. In Canada, however, 90% of women have successfully completed high-school compared with 87% of men. 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, higher than the OECD average of 82%.
Canadians can expect to go through 17.0 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, slightly more than the OECD average of 16.5 years. This high level of education expectancy echoes Canada’s good performance in the educational attainment of its 25-34 year-old population.
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, skills in maths and level in sciences, as research shows that these 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, maths and sciences with the average student scoring 527. This score is higher than the OECD average of 497, making Canada one of the strongest OECD countries in students’ skills. On average in Canada, girls outperformed boys by 6 points, less than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In Canada, the average difference in results, between the 20% with the highest socio-economic background and the 20% with the lowest socio-economic background, is 75 points, much lower than the OECD average of 99 points. This suggests the school system in Canada provides relatively equal access to high-quality education.
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 province 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 4 500 principals and vice-principals.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Canada expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health and well-being. Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of peoples’ lives. Despite national and international interventions and decreases in major pollutant emissions, the health impacts of urban air pollution continue to worsen, with air pollution set to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality globally by 2050. Air pollution in urban centres, often caused by transport and the use of small-scale burning of wood or coal, is linked to a range of health problems, from minor eye irritation to upper respiratory symptoms in the short-term and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer in the long-term. Children and the elderly may be particularly vulnerable.
PM10 – tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung – is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In Canada, PM10 levels are 15.6 micrograms per cubic meter, lower than the OECD average of 20.9 micrograms per cubic meter and lower than the annual guideline limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization.
Access to clean water is fundamental to human well-being. Despite significant progress in OECD countries in reducing water pollution, improvements in freshwater quality are not always easy to discern. In Canada, 89% of people say they are satisfied with water quality. This figure is higher than the OECD average of 84% and suggests Canada has been successful in providing good quality water to its inhabitants.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – Canada expand
A cohesive society is one where citizens have a high degree of confidence in their governmental institutions and public administration. In Canada, 67% of people say they trust their political institutions, more than the OECD average of 56%. High voter turnout is another measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process. In the most recent elections for which data is available, voter turnout in Canada was 61% of those registered. This figure is lower than the OECD average of 72%.
Even if the right to vote is universal in all OECD countries, not everyone exercises this right. There is little difference in the voting rates of men and women in most OECD countries. This is the case in Canada, where the voter turnout of men and women is similar at respectively 61% and 62%. While on average there are few differences between men and women concerning participation in elections, income can have a strong influence on voter turnout. In Canada, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 63%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 60%. This 3 percentage point difference is much lower than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points, and suggests there is broad social inclusion in Canada’s democratic institutions.
Ensuring that government decision making is not compromised by conflicts of interest is key to maintaining trust in government. Transparency is therefore essential to hold government to account and to maintain confidence in public institutions.
Freedom of information laws (FOI) allow the possibility for individuals to access undisclosed information. For such policies to be successful, the public should have a clear understanding of their rights under the law, should be able to file requests with ease and should be protected against any possible retaliation. People in Canada can file a request for information either in writing or in person, but not yet online or by telephone. In addition, there are no provisions for anonymity or protection from retaliation.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Innovative ways to involve citizens
The Canadian government is committed to finding new and innovative ways to consult with and engage citizens. The Consulting with Canadians website (www.consultingcanadians.gc.ca) provides single-window access to a list of consultations from federal departments and agencies. Citizens may view current consultations and find out how to participate. One key area is the regulatory process, where federal departments and agencies must show that Canadians have been consulted and have had an opportunity to participate in developing or modifying regulations.
Canada has also mobilised citizens and the private sector to seek advice on maintaining its long-term economic growth and prosperity, through the Cross Canada Roundtable series. Experts from the private sector, business, academia, and non-government organisations provide valuable guidance on key issues. The roundtables are an important effort to actively engage citizens in finding solutions for deficit reduction, increased economic growth and other policy concerns.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – Canada expand
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. Life expectancy at birth in Canada stands at 81 years, slightly above the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 83 years, compared with 79 years for men, a slightly smaller difference than the OECD average gender gap of six years with a life expectancy of 83 years for women and 77 years for men.
Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher healthcare spending per person, although many other factors have an impact on life expectancy (such as living standards, lifestyles, education and environmental factors). Total health spending accounts for 11.4% of GDP in Canada in, nearly two percentage points higher than the OECD average of 9.5%. Canada alsoranks above the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at 4445 USD in 2010, compared with an OECD average of 3268 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in Canadaincreased in real terms by 4.6% per year on average, a similar growth rate to the OECD average of 4.7%. This growth rate slowed down to only 3.0% in 2010.
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 half since 1980 from 34% in 1980 to 16.3% today, a lower rate than the OECD average of 21.1%. 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.
In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In Canada, the obesity rate among adults is 24.2%, higher than the OECD average of 17.8%. 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. 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, answers have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future health care use. Gender, age and social status may affect answers to this question. On average in OECD countries, men are more likely to report good health than women, with an average of 71% for men and 66% for women. In Canada, there is little difference between men and women with 89% of positive answers for men and 88% of positive answers for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 95% of the top 20% of the adult population in Canada rate their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 79% for the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Canada expand
Happiness or subjective well-being can be measured in terms of life satisfaction, the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and the absence of negative experiences and feelings. Such measures, while subjective, are a useful complement to objective data to compare the quality of life across countries.
Life satisfaction measures how people evaluate their life as a whole rather than their current feelings. It captures a reflective assessment of which life circumstances and conditions are important for subjective well-being. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Canadians gave it a 7.4 grade, higher than the OECD average of 6.6.
There is little difference in life satisfaction levels between men and women across OECD countries. This is true in Canada, where men gave their life a 7.3 grade and women 7.5. Education levels strongly influence subjective well-being in many OECD countries but in Canada the difference is relatively small, with people who have only completed primary education reporting a life satisfaction level of 7.5, and people with tertiary education a level of 7.7.
Happiness, or subjective well-being, is also measured by the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and/or the absence of negative experiences and feelings. In Canada, 82% of people reported having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 80%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – Canada expand
Personal security is a core element for the well-being of individuals, and largely reflects the risks of people being physically assaulted or falling victim to other types of crime. Across the OECD, assault rates have generally declined in the past five years. In Canada, 1.3% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, the lowest rate in the OECD where the average is 4.0%. There is little difference between men and women in assault rates.
The homicide rate (the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants) is a more reliable measure of a country’s safety level because, unlike other crimes, murders are usually always reported to the police. According to the latest OECD data, Canada’s homicide rate is 1.6, lower than the OECD average of 2.2. In Canada, the homicide rate for men is of 2.4 compared with 0.8 for women.
Fear of crime is another important indicator as it can constrain behaviour, restrict freedom and threaten the foundation of communities. Despite a general reduction in assault rates in the past five years, in many OECD countries feelings of security have declined. In Canada, 81% of people feel safe walking alone at night, higher than the OECD average of 67%. While men are at a greater risk of being victims of assaults and violent crimes, women report lower feelings of security than men. This has been explained by a greater fear of sexual attacks, the feeling they must also protect their children and their concern that they may be seen as partially responsible.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Work-Life Balance – Canada expand
Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. Some couples would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could afford to stop working. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.
People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work. The distribution of tasks within the family is still influenced by gender roles: men are more likely to spend more hours in paid work, while women spend longer in unpaid domestic work. Men in Canada spend 146 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, more than the OECD average of 131 minutes but considerably less than Canadian women who spend 248 minutes per day on average on domestic work.
Another important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. People in Canada work 1 702 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. The share of employees working more than 50 hours per week is not very large across OECD countries. In Canada, almost 4% of employees work very long hours, less than the OECD average of 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Canada 6% of men work very long hours, compared with 1% for women.
The more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as time with others or leisure. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits. People in Canada devote 64% of their day, or 14.3 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socializing with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) – less than the OECD average of 14.9 hours. Fewer hours in paid work for women do not necessarily result in greater leisure time. In Canada, both men and women devote approximately 14 hours per day to personal care and leisure.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Childcare support could help vulnerable families
Canada performs well in a number of key family indicators: fertility rates (1.7 children per women), gender pay gaps (20% at median earnings) and child poverty (at almost 15%) are all close to the OECD average. Female employment is higher than most OECD countries and children’s educational achievement as measured by PISA reading literacy values is amongst the highest in the OECD. However, childcare enrolment of children under age six, at 40%, lags behind OECD standards.
Canada is a federal country and each province has different policies in this area. Of the Provinces, Québec arguably has the most comprehensive mix of family-friendly policies, including childcare and out-of-school childcare support, in-work benefits for parents, and paternity leave. However, affordability and quality in childcare remains an issue across Canada.
Particularly vulnerable are sole parents, whose childcare costs are amongst the highest in the OECD. Providing greater investment in childcare would both reduce costs of childcare to parents and increase the quality of service, with positive effects on child development.