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Italy performs favourably in several measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks close to the average in several topics in the Better Life Index.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Italy, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 24 216 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 five times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, 57% of people aged 15 to 64 in Italy have a paid job, below the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 67% of men are in paid work, compared with 47% of women. This suggests that women encounter difficulties in balancing work and family life. People in Italy work 1 774 hours a year, close to the OECD average of 1 776 hours. Almost 4% of employees work very long hours, less 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 Italy, 55% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, below the OECD average of 74%. There is little difference between men and women, as 54% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 56% of women. In terms of the quality of the education system, the average student scored 486 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), lower than the OECD average of 497. On average in Italy, girls outperformed boys by 11 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Italy is almost 83 years, three years higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 85 years, compared with 80 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 21 micrograms per cubic meter, in line with the OECD average. Italy could do better in terms of water quality, as 71% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, below the OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a moderate sense of community and high levels of civic participation in Italy, where 86% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, less the OECD average of 90%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 81% during recent elections; higher than the OECD average of 72%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is 91% and for the bottom 20% it is 78%, a slightly larger difference than the OECD average gap of 12 percentage points.
In general, Italians are less satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 69% 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 lower than the OECD average of 80%.
OECD in Action
OECD Economic Surveys: Italy 2013
OECD's 2013 Economic Survey of Italy examines recent economic developments, policy and prospects. Its special chapter examines policy implemention: legislation, public administration and rule of law.
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Italy in Detail
Housing – Italy 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 Italy, households on average spend 22% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, 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 Italy, 92% 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 Italy’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 Italy, the average home contains 1.4 rooms per person, less than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person. In terms of basic facilities however, 99.6% of people in Italy 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 – Italy 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 Italy, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 24 216 USD a year, higher than the OECD average of 23 047USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In Italy, the average household net financial wealth is estimated at 55 255 USD, 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 Italy, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 46 751 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 8 949 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Italy 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 Italy, nearly 57% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is lower than the OECD employment average of 66%. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in Italy an estimated 76% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 44% for those without an upper secondary education. This 32 percentage point difference is slightly lower than the OECD average of 37 percentage points and suggests the job market in Italy is relatively inclusive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In Italy, 47% of women have jobs. This is much less than the OECD average of 60% and much less than the 67% employment rate of men in Italy. This 20 percentage point difference is higher than the OECD average of 12 percentage points and suggests employment opportunities for women could be improved.
Young Italians, aged 15-24, are also facing difficulties, with an unemployment rate of 29.1% 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 Italy, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at almost 4.4%, higher 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 Italy, however, the difference is relatively high with an unemployment rate of 3.9% for men and 5.0% for women.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In Italy, people earn 33 947 US dollars per year on average, less than the OECD average of 34 466 USD. Not everyone earns that amount however. Whereas the top 20% of the population earn 40 560 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on 24 287 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 Italy, close to 7% of total employees have a contract of 6 months or less, lower than the average of 10% for 30 OECD countries. This figure suggests Italy has been successful in stabilising working contracts and encouraging open-ended contracts.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Italy 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 Italy spend 2 minutes per day in volunteering activities, less than the OECD average of 4 minutes per day. Around 56% 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 Italy, 86% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, less than the OECD average of 90%. There is little difference between men and women, as 85% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 87% 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 Italy, 84% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to 89% 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 – Italy 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 Italy, 55% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, much less 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 Italy, however 56% of women have successfully completed high-school compared with 54% of men. Among younger people – a better indicator of Italy’s future – 71% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, still lower than the OECD average of 82% but showing progress.
Italians can expect to go through 17.1 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, more than the OECD average of 16.5 years. This high level of education expectancy could influence Italy’s future 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.
The average student in Italy scored 486 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, lower than the OECD average of 497. On average, girls outperformed boys by 11 points, more than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In Italy, the average difference in results, between the 20% with the highest socio-economic background and the 20% with the lowest socio-economic background, is 87 points, lower than the OECD average of 99 points. This suggests the school system in Italy provides relatively equal access to high-quality education.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Italy 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 Italy, 17% of people feel they lack access to green spaces or recreational areas, more 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 Italy, PM10 levels are 21.3 micrograms per cubic meter, slightly higher than the OECD average of 20.9 micrograms per cubic meter and 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 Italy, 71% of people say they are satisfied with water quality. This figure is lower than the OECD average of 84% and suggests Italy still faces difficulties in providing good quality water to its inhabitants.
More ResourcesOECD Environmental Outlook to 2030 How's Life?: Work and Life Balance
Governance – Italy expand
A cohesive society is one where citizens have a high degree of confidence in their governmental institutions and public administration. In Italy, 49% of people say they trust their political institutions, less 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 Italy was 81% of those registered. This figure is 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. In Italy, however, men outvote women by nearly 5 percentage points. Income can also have a strong influence on voter turnout. In Italy, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 91%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 78%. This 13 percentage point difference is slightly larger 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 Italy can file a request for information either in writing, online, by telephone or in person – 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 – Italy 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. Italy enjoys one of the highest life expectancies across OECD countries, at almost 83 years, three years above the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 85 years, compared with 80 for men, a slightly smaller difference than the average OECD gender gap of six years with a life expectancy of 83 years for women and 77 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 accounted for 9.3% of GDP in Italy, slightly below the average of 9.5% in OECD countries. Italy also ranks below the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at 2964 USD in 2010, compared with an OECD average of 3268 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in Italyincreased in real terms by 1.9% per year on average, a slower growth rate than the OECD average of 4.7%. This growth rate then slowed down slightly to 1.5% in 2010.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases. Italy has achieved some progress in reducing tobacco consumption, with current rates of daily smokers among adults standing at 23.1%, down from 27.8% in 1990. Smoking rates in Italy are still higher than the OECD average of 21.1%. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In Italy, the obesity rate among adults based on self-reported height and weight is 10.3%, lower than the OECD average of 17.8%. Obesity rates are low in Italy, relative to most OECD countries, but are very high among children. 1 in 3 children is overweight, one of the highest rates 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?” 64% of people in Italy reported to be in good health, slightly below 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 Italy, the average is 68% for men and 61% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 74% of the top 20% of the adult population in Italy rate their health as ‘good’ or very good’, compared to about 59% for the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Italy 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, Italians gave it a 5.8 grade, lower 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 Italy, where men gave their life a 6.0 grade and women 5.7. Education levels do, however, strongly influence subjective well-being. Whereas people who have only completed primary education in Italy have a life satisfaction level of 5.3, this score reaches 6.7 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 Italy 69% 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 lower than the OECD average of 80%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – Italy 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 Italy, 4.7% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, slightly more than the OECD average of 4.0%. There is a difference of more than 1 percentage point between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 5.4% and 4.1%.
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, Italy’s homicide rate is 0.9, lower than the OECD average of 2.2. In Italy, the homicide rate for men is 1.4 compared with 0.4 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 Italy, 59% of people feel safe walking alone at night, lower 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 – Italy 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 Italy, spend 103 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, less than the OECD average of 131 minutes and less than a third as long as Italian women, who spend 326 minutes per day on average on domestic work, one of the highest differences in the OECD.
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 Italy work 1 774 hours a year, close to 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 Italy, some 4% of employees work very long hours, less than the OECD average of 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Italy 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 Italy devote 67% 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. Fewer hours in paid work for women do not necessarily result in greater leisure time. In Italy, men devote approximately 15 hours per day to personal care and leisure and women 14 hours per day.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Support to combine work and childrearing in Italy
Italy falls behind OECD averages on three key family indicators: female employment rates, fertility rates and child poverty. Compared with many other OECD countries, women in Italy find it difficult to combine motherhood with paid employment. In fact, women often have to choose between work and having children; the result is few children and low female employment rates: 47% compared with an OECD average of 60%.
Fertility rates have fallen sharply during the 1970s, and have stabilised around 1.4 children per women since the mid-1980s. Looking to pursue a career first, younger generations often postpone childbirth and as a result, increase the likelihood of not having children at all. In Italy about 24% of women born in 1965 have remained childless, compared to only 10% for French women of the same age. Italy spends around 1.4% of GDP for families with children, which is below the 2.2% invested in families on average across the OECD. Working parents can take up to 11 months of parental leave, including 5 months of maternity leave usually at full pay, but payment rates for the rest of the parental leave period are low. While 98% of children aged three to five years old attend school (Scuola dell’Infanza), only about 29% of all children under age 3 participate in formal childcare.
Working time flexibility plays a limited role in helping parents to reconcile their work and care commitments. However, less than 50% of companies with 10 or more employees provide flexi-time options to their employees, and 60% of employees have no control over their working times. When faced with limited access to out-of-school care services, holding a full-time job is difficult for parents. Childcare policies and workplace practices that reduce barriers to employment for mothers therefore can be strengthened to achieve better work and family outcomes.