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Finland performs very well in many 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 Finland, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 25 739 USD a year, slightly 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 almost four times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, 69% of people aged 15 to 64 in Finland have a paid job, above the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 71% of men are in paid work, compared with 68% of women. People in Finland work 1 684 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 2% for women.
Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In Finland, 83% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 74%. This is truer of women than of men, as 81% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 85% of women. Finland is a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system. The average student scored 543 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is the highest in the OECD, where the average is 497. On average in Finland, girls outperformed boys by 23 points, considerably more than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Finland is almost 81 years, one year higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 84 years, compared with 77 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs –is 15 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably lower than the OECD average of 21 micrograms per cubic meter. Finland also does well in terms of water quality, as 92% 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 moderate levels of civic participation in Finland, where 92% 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 69% during recent elections; slightly below the OECD average of 72%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is 74% and for the bottom 20% it is 61%, slightly broader than the OECD average gap of 12 percentage points.
In general, Finns 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%.
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Finland - Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education
Finland's schools are well integrated in communities and teachers are highly committed, making it a top PISA performer with little variation among pupils of differing backgrounds.View this video on youtube
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Finland in Detail
Housing – Finland 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 Finland, households on average spend 22% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, slightly 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 Finland, 93% 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 Finland’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 Finland, 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, 99.3% of people in Finland 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 – Finland 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 Finland, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 25 739 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 Finland, the average household net financial wealth is estimated at 22 335 USD, lower 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 Finland, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 44992 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 12 236 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Finland 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 Finland, 69% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is slightly higher than the OECD employment average of 66%. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in Finland, an estimated 85% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 42% for those without an upper secondary education. This 43 percentage point difference is slightly larger than the OECD average of 37 percentage points and suggests the job market in Finland is relatively restrictive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In Finland, 68% of women have jobs. This is more than the OECD average of 60% and relatively close to the 71% employment rate of men in Finland. This 3 percentage point gender difference is much smaller than the OECD average of 12 percentage points and suggests Finland has been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face in accessing work.
Young Finns, aged 15-24, however, face difficulties, with an unemployment rate of 18.9% 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 Finland, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at nearly 1.8%, 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 Finland, the long-term unemployment rate for men is slightly higher than for women, with respectively 2.2% and 1.2%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In Finland, people earn 36 468 US dollars per year on average, close to the OECD average of 34 466 USD. Not everyone earns that amount however. Whereas the top 20% of the population earn 45 547 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on 24 691 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 Finland, close to 15% of total employees have a contract of 6 months or less, more than the average of 10% for 30 OECD countries. This figure suggests greater stabilisation of working contracts could be encouraged for Finnish employees.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Finland 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 Finland spend 4 minutes per day in volunteering activities, in line with the OECD average. Around 55% 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 Finland, 92% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, more than the OECD average of 90%. There is a 4 percentage point difference between men and women, as 90% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 94% 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 Finland, only 84% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to 98% 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 – Finland 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 Finland, 83% 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 Finland, however 85% of women have successfully completed high-school compared with 81% of men. Among younger people – a better indicator of Finland’s future – 91% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, also higher than the OECD average of 82%.
Finns can expect to go through close to 19.6 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, more than the OECD average of 16.5 years and the highest level across OECD countries. This high level of education expectancy echoes Finland’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.
Finland is a top-performing OECD country in reading literacy, maths and sciences with the average student scoring 543. This score is higher than the OECD average of 497, making Finland the strongest OECD country in students’ skills. On average in Finland, girls outperformed boys by 23 points, much more than the OECD average of 9 points, with an overall score of 555 points compared with 532 points for boys.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In Finland, the average difference in results, between the 20% with the highest socio-economic background and the 20% with the lowest socio-economic background is 62 points, much lower than the OECD average of 99 points and the lowest gap amongst OECD countries. This suggests the school system in Finland provides relatively equal access to high-quality education.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Highly respected teachers
The trust that teachers enjoy in Finnish society is deserved and reflects the very high quality of their training. Finland has raised the social status of its teachers to a level where there are few occupations with higher status. University professors are among the most highly regarded of all professionals, and even the word for teacher is the same for school teachers as for university professors. In 2010, there were more than 10 applicants for each of the 660 available slots on university courses for training primary schoolteachers, making teaching one of the most sought-after professions.
As a result of this competitive climate, teaching is now a highly selective occupation in Finland, with highly skilled, well-trained teachers spread throughout the country. While teachers in Finland have always enjoyed respect in society, a combination of raising the bar for entry and granting teachers greater autonomy over their classrooms and working conditions than their peers enjoy elsewhere has helped to raise the status of the profession. Teachers have earned the trust of parents and the wider society by their demonstrated capacity to use professional discretion and judgment in the way they manage their classrooms and respond to the challenge of helping virtually all students become successful learners.
Since the 1980s, the Finnish system of accountability was redeveloped entirely from the bottom up. Teacher candidates are selected, in part, according to their capacity to convey their belief in the core mission of public education in Finland, which is deeply humanistic as well as civic and economic. The preparation they receive is designed to build a powerful sense of individual responsibility for the learning and well-being of all the students in their care. During their careers, they must combine the roles of researcher and practitioner. Teachers in Finland are not only expected to become familiar with the knowledge base in education and human development, but are also required to write a research-based thesis as the final requirement for the Masters degree.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Finland expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health. 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 Finland, less than 4% 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 Finland, PM10 levels are 14.9 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.
Urban air quality in Finland is generally good, and people living in cities have relatively low exposure to air pollution by ozone and PM10 by EU standards. However, exposure to particulate matter from small scale wood burning is common, especially in rural and semi-urban areas where district heating is not available.
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 Finland, 92% of people say they are satisfied with water quality. This figure is higher than the OECD average of 84% and suggests Finland has been successful in providing good quality water to its inhabitants.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Reduced noise leads to a healthier environment
Efforts to reduce noise have a long history in Finland, as a low-noise environment is considered part of healthy and pleasant living conditions. Regulations (e.g. speed limit in city centres, noise emission thresholds, regulations of aircraft take-off and landing) and investments (e.g. low-noise pavements, noise barriers, renewal of rail fleet and rail maintenance) have all been implemented. As a result, the number of inhabitants living in areas exposed to daytime noise from city traffic above 55 dB has been reduced from 560 000 in 1998 to around 400 000 in 2005.
The City of Helsinki also contributed EUR 18 million to the construction of 16 km of noise barriers between 2000 and 2007. These noise abatement measures have benefited about two-thirds of the exposed inhabitants.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – Finland expand
A cohesive society is one where citizens have a high degree of confidence in their governmental institutions and public administration. In Finland, 82% of people say they trust their political institutions, the highest rate in the OECD area, where the average is 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 Finland was 69% 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 Finland, where the voter turnout of men and women is similar, at respectively 70% and 68%. 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 Finland, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 74%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 61%. This 13 percentage point difference is slightly higher than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points.
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 Finland can file a request for information either in writing, online, by telephone or in person – thus greatly facilitating the FOI process. There are also provisions for anonymity and built-in protection from retaliation – important protections that few OECD countries have adopted. As a result, Finland has one of the most accessible freedom of information policies in the OECD area.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – Finland 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 Finland stands at almost 81 years, one year above the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 84 years, compared with 77 for men, a gender difference close to the average OECD 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 8.9% of GDP in Finland, a slightly lower share than the average of 9.5% in OECD countries. At 3251 USD, health spending per person in Finland is close to the OECD average of 3268 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in Finlandincreased in real terms by 4.3% per year on average, a slightly slower growth rate than the OECD average of 4.7%. This growth rate then slowed down to only 0.9% in 2010.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases. Daily smoking rates among adults in Finland stand at 19.0%, lower than the OECD average of 21.1%. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In Finland, the obesity rate among adults is 20.2%, higher 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?” 69% of people in Finland reported to be in good health, in line with the OECD average. 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 Finland, the average is 70% for men and 67% 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 Finland rate their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 55% for the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Finland 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, Finns 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 Finland, where men gave their life a 7.2 grade and women 7.6. Education levels do, however, strongly influence subjective well-being. Whereas people who have only completed primary education in Finland have a life satisfaction level of 7.0, this score reaches 8.0 for people with tertiary education.
Happiness, or subjective well-being, is also defined as the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and/or the absence of negative experiences and feelings. In Finland, 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 slightly higher than the OECD average of 80%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – Finland 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 Finland, almost 2.4% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, less than the OECD average of 4.0%. There is a 3 percentage point difference between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 3.9% and 0.9%.
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, Finland’s homicide rate is 2.2, in line with the OECD average. In Finland, the homicide rate for men is 3.2 compared with 1.2 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 Finland, 78% 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 – Finland 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 Finland spend 154 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, more than the OECD average of 131 minutes but still less than Finnish women who spend 245 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 Finland work 1 684 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 Finland, almost 4% of employees work very long hours, less than the OECD average of 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Finland 6% of men work very long hours, compared with 2% 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 Finland devote 68% of their day, or 14.9 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socializing with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) – in line with the OECD average.
Better Policies for Better Lives
The Finnish model of work and family reconciliation stands out in international comparison because of the manner in which it provides choice to parents with young children. Finnish policy reduces barriers to employment by ensuring all families with young children have access to a subsidised childcare place.