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indicator value unit
Population 311.6 mil.
Visitors per year 171.6 mil.
Renewable energy 6.3 %

How’s Life?

The United States performs very well in many measures of well-being relative to most other countries in the Better Life Index. The United States rank at the top in housing, and income and wealth. They rank above the average in health status, jobs and earnings, personal security, subjective well-being, environmental quality, and civic engagement, but below average in work-life balance.

Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In the United States, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 41 355 a year, more than the OECD average of USD 25 908 a year, and the highest figure in the OECD. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn approximately eight times as much as the bottom 20%.

In terms of employment, 67% of people aged 15 to 64 in the United States have a paid job, slightly above the OECD employment average of 65%. Some 73% of men are in paid work, compared with 62% of women. In the United States,around 11% of employees work very long hours, lower than the OECD average of 13%, with 16% of men working very long hours compared with 7% for women.

Good education and skills are important requisites for finding a job. In the United States, 89% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, higher than the OECD average of 75%. This is slightly truer of women than men, as 88% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 90% of women. In terms of the quality of the educational system, the average student scored 492 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 the United States, girls outperformed boys by 9 points, slightly more than the average OECD gap of 8 points.

In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in the United States is almost 79 years, one year lower than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 81 years, compared with 76 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 17.8 micrograms per cubic meter in large urban areas, lower than the OECD average of 20.1 micrograms per cubic meter. The United States also does well in terms of water quality, as 85% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, slightly higher than the OECD average of 81%.

Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community and moderate levels of civic participation in the United States, where 90% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, slightly higher than the OECD average of 88%. Voter turnout, a measure of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 68% during recent elections; this figure is in line with the OECD average. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 77% and for the bottom 20% it is an estimated 54%, broader than the OECD average gap of 13 percentage points, and points to shortcomings in the political mobilisation of the worst-off.

In general, Americans are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, people in the United States gave it a 7.2 grade, higher than the OECD average of 6.6.

For more information on estimates and years of reference, see FAQ section and BLI database.


OECD in Action

OECD Economic Surveys: United States 2014

OECD's 2014 Economic Survey of the United States examines recent economic developments, policies and prospects. Special chapters cover improving well-being and making the best of new energy resources.

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United States in Detail