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Poland performs moderately well in overall measures of well-being, and ranks higher than average in some of the topics in the Better Life Index.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Poland, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 15 371 USD a year, less 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 nearly five times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, around 60% of people aged 15 to 64 in Poland have a paid job, less than the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 66% of men are in paid work, compared with 53% of women. People in Poland work 1 937 hours a year, more than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. Approximately 7% of employees work very long hours, slightly less than the OECD average of 9%, with 11% of men working very long hours compared with just 3% for women.
Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In Poland, 89% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 74%. This is equally true of men and women. In terms of the quality of the educational system, the average student scored 501 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), higher than the OECD average of 497. On average in Poland, girls outperformed boys by 18 points, higher than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Poland is 77 years, three years below the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 81 years, compared with 73 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 34 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably higher than the OECD average of 21 micrograms per cubic meter. Poland also performs below the OECD average in terms of water quality, as 79% 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 strong sense of community and a moderate level of civic participation in Poland, where 91% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, slightly more than the OECD average of 90%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 55% during recent elections; this figure is one of the lowest in the OECD where average participation is of 72%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is 68% and for the bottom 20% it is 43%, broader than the OECD average gap of 12 percentage points and suggesting there is room for broader social inclusion in Poland’s democratic institutions
In general, Poles are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 83% 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), more than the OECD average of 80%.
OECD in Action
Poland - Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education
Poland overhauled its school system, raising performance to similar levels to the United States and Norway despite spending less than half of what those countries spend on education.View this video on youtube
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Poland in Detail
Housing – Poland 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 Poland, households on average spend 24% of their gross adjusteddisposable 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 Poland, 84% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, less than the OECD average of 87%. This low level of subjective satisfaction reflects Poland’s mixed 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 Poland, the average home contains one room per person, less than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person and one of the lowest rates in the OECD. In terms of basic facilities, 96%of people in Poland live in dwellings with private access to an indoor flushing toilet, less than the OECD average of 97.8%.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Improving housing quantity and quality
Housing is a major social issue affecting every urban area in Poland. There is a shortage of housing ranging between 1.5 million and 1.8 million dwellings. The quality of existing housing is also a subject of concern: half of the housing stock was built before 1970 and there is an urgent need to develop and renovate it.
Demographic changes such as urban migration, ageing and smaller-sized households have strongly increased demand for individual housing while increase in supply has been slower. Lack of urban planning and little land availability, combined with a lack of funds and relevant powers to intervene at municipal level, have aggravated the situation.
The rental market is very small, and developing it further would be one way of stimulating a private sector response. The government recently lifted rent restrictions and lowered the tax rate on rental income, which is a step in the right direction.
Nevertheless, the still insufficient supply of housing, coupled with mounting demand, has led to significant increases in housing costs. Between 1995 and 2005, Poland experienced one of the greatest increases among OECD countries in the cost of housing as a proportion of disposable income, from 16% in 1995 to 22% in 2005. As a result, it has become one of the most expensive places to live, when relative income levels are taken into account. The proportion of income allocated to housing in Poland is greater than in many Western European countries, such as France, Germany or the Netherlands.
On the public sector side, national-level intervention is needed to help municipalities increase the supply of affordable housing. The OECD strongly recommends setting affordable housing targets for municipalities across Poland, eventually supported by incentives such as development funds.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Income – Poland 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 Poland, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 15 371 USD a year, lower than the OECD average of 23 047 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In Poland, the average household net financial wealth is estimated at 9 222 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 Poland, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 29 527 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 6 123 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Poland 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 Poland, close to 60% 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 Poland an estimated 83% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 24% for those without an upper secondary education. This 59 percentage point difference is much higher than the OECD average of 37 percentage points and suggests the job market in Poland is considerably restrictive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In Poland, 53% of women have jobs. This is less than the OECD average of 60% and less than the 66% employment rate of men in Poland. This 13 percentage point gender difference is close to the 12 percentage point OECD average difference and suggests Poland could further improve employment opportunities for women but has generally been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face accessing work.
Young Polish people aged 15-24 however, are facing difficulties, with an unemployment rate of 25.8% 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 Poland, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at almost 3.1%, in line with the OECD average. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment. In Poland, the long-term unemployment rate for men is slightly lower than for women, with respectively 2.8% and 3.4%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In Poland, people earn 19 806 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 26 308 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on 10 906 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 Poland, around 8% of total employees have a contract of 6 months or less, slightly lower than the average of 10% for 30 OECD countries. This figure suggests Poland has been successful in stabilising working contracts and encouraging open-ended contracts.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Poland 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 Poland spend 1 minute per day in volunteering activities, less than the OECD average of 4 minutes per day. Around 37% reported having helped a stranger in the last month, less 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 Poland, 91% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, close to the OECD average of 90%. There is a 2 percentage point difference between men and women, as 90% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 92% 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 Poland, 87% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to 96% 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 – Poland 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 Poland, 89% 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 Poland, however, this is equally true of men and women. Among younger people – a better indicator of Poland’s future – 94% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 82%.
Poles can expect to go through 18.2 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 echoes Poland’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.
The average student in Poland scored 501 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, higher than the OECD average of 497. On average, girls outperformed boys by 18 points, double the average OECD gap of 9 points.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In Poland, the average difference in results, between the 20% with the highest socio-economic background and the 20% with the lowest socio-economic background, is 97 points, slightly lower than the OECD average of 99 points. This suggests the school system in Poland provides relatively equal access to high-quality education.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Poland 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 Poland, 14% 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 Poland, PM10 levels are 33.6 micrograms per cubic meter, much higher than the OECD average of 20.9 micrograms per cubic meter and much higher 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 Poland, 79% of people say they are satisfied with water quality,lower than the OECD average of 84%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – Poland expand
A cohesive society is one where citizens have a high degree of confidence in their governmental institutions and public administration. In Poland, 56% of people say they trust their political institutions, in line with the OECD average. 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 Poland was 55% of those registered. This figure is lower than the OECD average of 72% and one of the lowest rates in the OECD area.
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 Poland, however, men outvote women by nearly 5 percentage points. Income can also have a strong influence on voter turnout. In Poland, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 68%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 43%. This 25 percentage point difference is much higher than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points, and points to shortcomings in the political mobilisation of those of lower socio-economic status.
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 Poland 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
Strengthening civil society
Poland is committed to strengthening civil society and citizen involvement in decision-making, and one of its key objectives is to open its public administration to external experience and public debate.
At local level, the Polish authorities are studying the extent and operation of lobbying so that they can promote decent lobbying standards, make the decision-making process more open and improve efficiency of systems for consultation and co-operation with social partners in developing and implementing public policy and regulations.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – Poland 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 Poland stands at nearly 77 years, more than three years below the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 81 years, compared with 73 for men, a gender difference slightly larger than the six-year OECD average gender gap, 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 accounts for 7.0% of GDP in Poland, more than two percentage points below the OECD average of 9.5%. Poland also ranks below the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at 1389 USD in 2010, compared with an OECD average of 3268 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in Poland increased in real terms by 7% per year on average, a faster growth rate than the OECD average of 4.7%. This growth rate then slowed down to 0.6% in 2010.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases. While the percentage of adults who smoke every day has declined markedly in Poland from 41.5% in 1992 to 23.8%, it remains above the OECD average of 21.1%. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In Poland, the obesity rate among adults – based on self-reported height and weight – is of 15.8%, slightly 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?” 57% of people in Poland reported to be in good health, lower 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 Poland, the average is 60% for men and 54% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 69% of the top 20% of the adult population in Poland rate their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 50% for the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Poland 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, Poles gave it a 5.9 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 Poland, where men gave their life a 5.7 grade and women 6.0. Education levels, however, strongly influence subjective well-being. Whereas people who have only completed primary education report a life satisfaction level of 5.8, this score reaches 6.5 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 Poland, 83% 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 – Poland 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 Poland, 1.8% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, 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 0.9% and 2.6%.
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, Poland’s homicide rate is 1.1, lower than the OECD average of 2.2. In Poland the homicide rate for men is 1.7 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 Poland, 63% of people feel safe walking alone at night, slightly 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 – Poland 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 on unpaid domestic work. Men in Poland, spend 157 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, more than the OECD average of 131 minutes but still considerably less than Polish women who spend 296 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 Poland work 1 937 hours a year, more 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 Poland, some 7% of employees work very long hours, less than the OECD average of 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Poland 11% of men work very long hours, compared with 3% 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 Poland devote 59% of their day, or 14.2 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 Poland, both men and women devote approximately 14 hours per day to personal care and leisure.