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Switzerland 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 Switzerland, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is 30 745 USD a year, more than the OECD average of 23 938 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn close to five times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, 79% of people aged 15 to 64 in Switzerland have a paid job, above the OECD employment average of 65%. Some 85% of men are in paid work, compared with 74% of women. People in Switzerland work 1 632 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 765 hours. Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In Switzerland, 86% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 75%. This is truer of men than women, as 89% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 83% of women. This difference is higher than the OECD average and suggests women’s participation in higher education could be strengthened. In terms of the quality of its educational system, the average student scored 518 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is higher than the OECD average of 497. On average in Switzerland, girls outperformed boys by 6 points, less than the average OECD gap of 8 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Switzerland is almost 83 years, three years higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 85 years, compared with 81 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 19.8 micrograms per cubic meter, slightly more than the 20.1 micrograms OECD average. Switzerland performs better in terms of water quality, as 95% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, compared with an OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community and a moderate level of civic participation in Switzerland, where 94% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, higher than the OECD average of 89%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 49% during recent elections; this figure is the lowest in the OECD where average participation is of 72%. Voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 61% and for the bottom 20% it is an estimated 43%, a broader difference than the OECD average gap of 11 percentage points.
In general, people in Switzerland are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 84% 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 76%.
OECD in Action
Mental Health and Work: Switzerland
Tackling mental ill-health of the working-age population is becoming a key issue for labour market and social policies in OECD countries. OECD's 2014 report on Switzerland looks at how the broader education, health, social and labour market policy challenges are being tackled.Read this report
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Switzerland in Detail
Housing – Switzerland 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 Switzerland, households on average spend 23% 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 Switzerland, 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 Switzerland’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 Switzerland, 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, 99.9% of people in Switzerland live in dwellings with private access to an indoor flushing toilet, more than the OECD average of 97.9%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Income – Switzerland 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, health care and housing.
Household net-adjusted disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after taxes and transfers. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In Switzerland, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is 30 745 USD a year, higher than the OECD average of 23 938 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In Switzerland, the average household net financial wealth per capita is estimated at 100 812 USD, much higher than the OECD average of 42 903 USD. While the ideal measure of household wealth should include non-financial 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 Switzerland, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 58 794 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 12 880 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Switzerland 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 Switzerland, around 79% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is much higher than the OECD employment average of 65% and is one of the highest rates in the OECD. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in Switzerland an estimated 88% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 45% for those without an upper secondary education. This 43 percentage point difference is higher than the OECD average of 33 percentage points and suggests the job market in Switzerland is relatively restrictive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In Switzerland, 74% of women have jobs. This is more than the OECD average of 57% but less than the 85% employment rate of men in Switzerland. This 11 percentage point gender difference is lower than the OECD average of 16 percentage points and suggests Switzerland could further improve employment opportunities for women but has generally been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face in accessing work.
Young Swiss people, aged 15-24, face an unemployment rate of 8.4%, lower than the OECD average of 16.3%.
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 Switzerland, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at almost 1.5%, lower than the OECD average of 2.7%. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment. In Switzerland, the long-term unemployment rate for men is slightly lower than for women, with respectively 1.3% and 1.7%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In Switzerland, people earn 52 307 US dollars per year on average, much more than the OECD average of 41 010 USD. Not everyone earns that amount however. Whereas the top 20% of the population earn an estimated 60 669 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on an estimated 32 467 USD per year.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Workers facing a high risk of job loss are more vulnerable, especially in countries with smaller social safety nets. In Switzerland, workers face a 2.8% chance of losing their job, lower than the OECD average of 5.3%.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Switzerland 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. Around 54% reported having helped a stranger in the last month, more than the OECD average of 49%.
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 Switzerland, 94% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, more than the OECD average of 89%. There is a 3 percentage point difference between men and women, as 93% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 96% 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 Switzerland the level of social support is similar across society: 95% of both people who have completed primary education and those who attained tertiary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need.
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 – Switzerland 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. 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 55% 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 Switzerland, 86% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 75%. This is truer of men than women, as 89% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 83% of women. This 6 percentage point difference is higher than the OECD average of 1 percentage point and suggests women’s participation in secondary education could be strengthened. Among younger people – a better indicator of Switzerland’s future – 89% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, also higher than the OECD average of 82%.
The Swiss can expect to go through 17.1 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, close to the OECD average of 17.7 years. This level of education expectancy echoes Switzerland’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 2012, 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 Switzerland scored 518 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, , higher than the OECD average of 497. On average in Switzerland, girls outperformed boys by 6 points, less than the average OECD gap of 8 points
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In Switzerland, the average difference in results, between the students with the highest socio-economic background and the students with the lowest socio-economic background is 98points, slightly higher than the OECD average of 96 points. This suggests the school system in Switzerland does not provide equal access to high-quality education.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Switzerland expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health. 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 Switzerland, PM10 levels are 19.8 micrograms per cubic meter, slightly lower than the OECD average of 20.1 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 Switzerland, 95% of people say they are satisfied with water quality, higher than the OECD average of 84%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – Switzerland expand
Trust in government is essential for social cohesion and well-being. In Switzerland, 77% of people say they trust their national government, much more than the OECD average of 39% and the highest rate 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 Switzerland was 49% of those registered. This figure is the lowest rate in the OECD, where average turnout is 72%, due to the high frequency of elections in the country.
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 Switzerland, however, men outvote women by an estimated nearly 16 percentage points. This difference suggests there is a gap in how men and women perceive the functioning of democratic institutions in Switzerland. Income can also have a strong influence on voter turnout. In Switzerland, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 61%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 43%. This 18 percentage point difference is higher than the OECD average difference of 11 percentage points and suggests that broader social inclusion could be achieved.
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 Switzerland can file a request for information either in writing, online, by telephone or in person – thus greatly facilitating the FOI process. There are even provisions for anonymity – an important protection that few OECD countries have adopted. There is not yet, however, built-in protection from retaliation.
Better Policies for Better Lives
E-government to broaden an already strong participative culture
Switzerland can be considered a ‘citizens’ democracy with real co-decision powers and a deeply-rooted involvement of a broad range of actors in the political decision-making process. Anyone can introduce or change a law by gaining 100 000 signatures of support, after which their proposal would go to a referendum. Public acceptance of major federal proposals can also be measured through the consultation process, which takes place during the preliminary legislative steps and is highly institutionalised.
The government is now looking at electronic alternatives (e-initiatives, e-participation) to make it easier for people to access services, cut red tape and speed up the administrative process. The Swiss e-government strategy sets common objectives for the central, state and local governments. E-voting is already a priority project, with pilot projects under way.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – Switzerland 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. Switzerland enjoys one of the highest life expectancies among OECD countries, at nearly 83 years, three years above the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 85 years, compared with 81 for men, a smaller gender 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 accounts for 11.0% of GDP in Switzerland, above the OECD average of 9.4%. Switzerland also ranks well above the OECD average in terms of health spending per person, at 5 643 USD in 2011, compared with an OECD average of 3 322 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in Switzerland increased in real terms by 2.7% per year on average, a slower rate than the OECD average of 4.0%. This growth rate accelerated to 3.7% in 2011.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases. In Switzerland, the proportion of smokers among adults has been reduced from 28.2% in 1992 to 20.4%, slightly below the OECD average of 20.9%. Much of this decline can be attributed to policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption through public awareness campaigns, advertising bans and increased taxation. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In Switzerland, the obesity rate among adults – based on self-reported height and weight – is 8.1%, 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?”81% of people in Switzerland reported to be in good health, much 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 72% for men and 67% for women. In Switzerland, the average is 84% for men and 79% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 90% of adults with a disposable income in the top 20% in Switzerland rate their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 70% for those with a disposable income in the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Switzerland 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 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, Swiss people gave it a 7.8 grade, the highest score in the OECD where average life satisfaction is 6.6.
There is little difference in life satisfaction levels between men and women across OECD countries. This is true in Switzerland, where men gave their life a 7.7 grade and women 7.8. Education levels, however, influence subjective well-being. Whereas Swiss people who have only completed primary education have a life satisfaction level of 7.4, this score reaches 8.0 for those 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 Switzerland 84% 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 76%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – Switzerland 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 Switzerland, 4.2% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, slightly more than the OECD average of 3.9%. Men are more likely to be victims of assault than women across OECD countries. In Switzerland there is a difference of almost 3 percentage points between men and women, at respectively 5.7% and 2.8%.
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, Switzerland’s homicide rate is 0.5, much lower than the OECD average of 4.1. In Switzerland, the homicide rate is the same for men and 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 Switzerland, 78% of people feel safe walking alone at night, higher than the OECD average of 69%. 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 – Switzerland 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.
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 Switzerland work 1 636 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 765 hours. The share of employees working more than 50 hours per week is not very large across OECD countries.