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Denmark 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 Denmark, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 24 682 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 four times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, over 73% of people aged 15 to 64 in Denmark have a paid job, above the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 76% of men are in paid work, compared with 70% of women. People in Denmark work 1 522 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. Some 2% of employees work very long hours, much lower than the OECD average of 9%, with 3% 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 Denmark, 76% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, slightly higher than the OECD average of 74%. This is slightly truer of men than women, as 77% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 75% of women. In terms of education quality, the average student scored 499 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is slightly higher than the OECD average of 497. There is no difference between girls and boys, in contrast to an OECD average difference of 9 points in favour of girls.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Denmark is 80 years, in line with the OECD average. Life expectancy for women is 82 years, compared with 78 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 21 micrograms per cubic meter. Denmark also does well in terms of water quality, as 94% 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 and high levels of civic participation in Denmark, 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 88% during recent elections; considerably higher than the OECD average of 72%. Voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is 90% and for the bottom 20% it is 86%, a much smaller gap than the OECD average gap of 12 percentage points.
In Denmark, 89% of people say 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: Denmark 2012
The Danish economy displays a number of strengths but faces new risks due to the international slowdown. Enhanced financial stability, a better control of public expenditure, and more cost-effective energy and climate policies would bring about strong, sustainable and even greener growth.Read this report
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Denmark in Detail
Housing – Denmark 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 Denmark, households on average spend 24% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, more than 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 Denmark, 91% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, more than the OECD average of 87%. This high level of subjective satisfaction reflects Denmark’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 Denmark, the average home contains 1.9 rooms per person, more than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person. In terms of basic facilities, 99.4% of people in Denmark 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 – Denmark 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 Denmark, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 24 682 USD a year, slightly higher than the OECD average of 23 047 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In Denmark, the average household net financial wealth is estimated at 36 184 USD, lower than the OECD average of 40 516USD. 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 Denmark, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 42 795 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 11 946 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Denmark 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 Denmark, more than 73% 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 Denmark an estimated 85% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 59% for those without an upper secondary education. This 26 percentage point difference is lower than the OECD average of 37 percentage points and suggests the job market in Denmark is relatively inclusive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In Denmark, 70% of women have jobs. This is more than the OECD average of 60% and relatively close to the 76% employment rate of men in Denmark. This 6 percentage point gender difference is much lower than the OECD average of 12 percentage points and suggests Denmark has generally been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face in accessing work.
Young Danes 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 Denmark, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at nearly 1.9%, 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. In Denmark, the long-term unemployment rate for men is slightly higher than for women, with respectively 2.0% and 1.7%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In Denmark, people earn 45802 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 57 073 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on 29 513 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 Denmark, close to 13% 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 Danish employees.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Across the OECD, students from low socio-economic background are twice as likely to be low performers at school, implying that social circumstances are obstacles to educational attainment. To prevent school failure, governments can use targeted policies. If the Danish government is to raise the number of young people completing secondary education from a current 86 % rate to 95% by 2015, for example, it must raise overall completion rates, but more particularly those of immigrants who have a disproportionately high drop-out rate. In 2005 there was a 17 percentage point difference between the upper secondary completion rate of first – and second – generation immigrants and the overall upper secondary completion rate.
The “Retention caravan” initiative is a four-year project (2008-2012) that aims to improve the integration of young immigrants, including second-generation immigrants, into the labour market by promoting their educational attainment. In order to ensure sustainable integration, a second objective is to encourage these young students to pursue training in areas where future shortages are predicted and where young people with a migrant background are under-represented. This program helps students write CVs and prepare interviews. The Retention Caravan is also recruiting a mentor team of retired skilled mechanics and blacksmiths to help and advise vulnerable youth in vocational training courses.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Denmark 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 Denmark spend 3 minutes per day in volunteering activities, less than the OECD average of 4 minutes per day. Around 53% 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 Denmark, 94% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, one of the highest rates in the OECD where the average is around 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 on average in the OECD there is a clear relationship between the availability of social support on the one hand, and people’s education level, on the other, in Denmark there is little difference: around 90% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to 93% for people who attained tertiary education.
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 – Denmark 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 Denmark, 76% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, slightly higher than the OECD average of 74%. This is slightly truer of men than women, as 77% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 75% of women. This 2 percentage point difference is in line with the OECD average. Among younger people – a better indicator of Denmark’s future – 80% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, lower than the OECD average of 82%.
Danes can expect to go through 18.8 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, more than the OECD average of 16.5 years.
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.
The average student in Denmark scored 499 in reading literacy, maths and sciences close to the OECD average of 497. Although girls outperformed boys in many OECD countries, in Denmark, boys and girls performed equally.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students . In Denmark, the average difference in results, between the 20% with the highest socio-economic background and the 20% with the lowest socio-economic background, is of 93 points, lower than the OECD average of 99 points. This suggests the school system in Denmark provides relatively equal access to high-quality education.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Denmark expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health and well-being. Having access to green spaces for example, is essential for quality of life. An unspoiled environment is a source of satisfaction, improves mental well-being, allows people to recover from the stress of everyday life and to perform physical activity. In Denmark, 3% of people feel they lack access to green spaces or recreational areas, much less than the 12 % average of OECD European countries.
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 Denmark, PM10 levels are 15.7 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 Denmark, 94% of people say they are satisfied with water quality. This figure is higher than the OECD average of 84% and suggests Denmark has been successful in providing good quality water to its inhabitants.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Cycling in Denmark is both a means of transportation and a means to good health. Copenhagen is known far and wide as the “City of Cyclists” due to its cycling tradition and its “City Bikes” which are specifically designed for hire. In Copenhagen, 34% of commuters use their bicycle for going to and from work. The proportion of trips made by bicycle in Copenhagen is among the highest in major European cities. This contributes greatly to the city’s relatively favourable traffic and environmental situation. An analysis of the socio-economic consequences of investing in cycling showed cost-benefit ratios much higher than normally expected from transport projects. Concerning health benefits, studies have shown that people who bike to work have a 28% lower mortality rate than the population average.
To improve traffic conditions and encourage cycling, the city is carrying out work in nine focus areas: creation of more cycle tracks and reinforced cycle lanes; creation of green cycle routes; improved cycling conditions in the city centre; combining cycling and public transport; bicycle parking; improved signal intersections; better cycle track maintenance; better cycle track cleaning; campaigns and information.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – Denmark expand
A cohesive society is one where citizens have a high degree of confidence in their governmental institutions and public administration. In Denmark, 75% of people say they trust their political institutions, more than the OECD average of 56% and one of the highest rates in the OECD. 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 Denmark was 88% of those registered. This figure is much higher 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 Denmark, where the voter turnout of men and women is the same. 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 Denmark, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 90%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 86%. This 4 percentage point difference is much lower than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points, and suggests there is broad social inclusion in Denmark’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 Denmark can file a request for information either in writing, in person or by telephone – thus greatly facilitating the FOI process. However, there are no provisions for anonymity or protection from retaliation.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – Denmark 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 Denmark stands at almost 80 years, in line with the OECD average. Life expectancy for women is 82 years, compared with 78 for men, close to 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 11.1% of GDP in Denmark, above the average in OECD countries of 9.5%. Denmark also ranks above the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at 4464 USD in 2010, compared with an OECD average of 3268 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in Denmarkincreased in real terms by 3.6% per year on average, a slightly slower growth rate than the OECD average of 4.7%, and it decreased by 1.6% in 2010.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases. In Denmark, the percentage of adults who report to smoke everyday has been cut down by more than half from 47% in 1984 to 20.0% today, slightly below the 21.1% OECD average. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In Denmark, the obesity rate among adults – based on self-reported height and weight – is 13.4%. This is lower than the OECD average of 17.8%. 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?” 70% of people in Denmark reported to be in good health, slightly more 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 Denmark, the average is 72% for men and 69% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 81% of the top 20% of the adult population in Denmark rate their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 67% for the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Denmark 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, Danes gave it a 7.5 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 Denmark, where both men and women gave their life a 7.5 grade. Education levels, however, can also influence subjective well-being. Whereas people who have only completed primary education in Denmark have a life satisfaction level of 7.2, this score reaches 7.8 for people with tertiary education.
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 Denmark, 89% 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 the highest in the OECD where the average is 80%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – Denmark 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 Denmark, 3.9% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, slightly less than the OECD average of 4.0%. There is a difference of almost 2 percentage points between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 4.9% and 3.1%.
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, Denmark’s homicide rate is 0.9, lower than the OECD average of 2.2. In Denmark, the homicide rate for men is 1.1 compared with 0.6 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 Denmark, 80% 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 – Denmark 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 Denmark spend 186 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, more than the OECD average of 131 minutes but still less than Danish women who spend 243 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 Denmark work 1 522 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 Denmark, less than 2% of employees work very long hours, much less than the OECD average of 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Denmark 3% 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 Denmark devote 69% of their day, or 16.1 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socializing with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) – more than the OECD average of 14.9 hours. Fewer hours in paid work for women do not necessarily result in greater leisure time. In Denmark, both men and women devote approximately 16 hours per day to personal care and leisure.