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indicator value unit
Population 311.6 mil.
Visitors per year 59.8 mil.
Renewable energy 5.65 %

How’s Life?

The United States performs very well in overall 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 the United States, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 38 001 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 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 66%. Some 71% of men are in paid work, compared with 62% of women. People in the United States work 1 787 hours a year, more than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. Around 11% of employees work very long hours, higher than the OECD average of 9%, with 16% of men working very long hours compared with 6% for women.

Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In the United States, 89% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 74%. 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 496 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), close to the OECD average of 497. On average in the United States, girls outperformed boys by 3 points, less than the average OECD gap of 9 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 18 micrograms per cubic meter, lower than the OECD average of 21 micrograms per cubic meter. The United States also does well in terms of water quality, as 87% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, slightly higher than the OECD average of 84%.

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, in line with the OECD average. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 70% during recent elections; this figure is slightly lower than the OECD average of 72%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is close to 79% and for the bottom 20% it is 56%, broader than the OECD average gap of 12 percentage points and suggesting there is room for broader social inclusion in the United States’ democratic institutions.

In general, Americans 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). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 80%.

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OECD in Action

Lessons from PISA 2012 for the United States

This report compares the performance of 15-year-olds in the United States in PISA against the global patterns and trends.

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United States in Detail