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Belgium performs well in many dimensions of well-being relative to other countries in the Better Life Index. Belgium outperforms the average in income, education, housing, health, civic engagement and life satisfaction. It underperforms average in social connections. These assessments are based on available selected data.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Belgium, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 34 884 a year, more than the OECD average of USD 30 490 a year.
In terms of employment, about 65% of people aged 15 to 64 in Belgium have a paid job, below the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 68% of men are in paid work, compared with 61% of women. In Belgium, 4% of employees work very long hours in paid work, below the OECD average of 10%, with 6% of men working very long hours in paid work compared with 3% of women.
Good education and skills are important requisites for finding a job. In Belgium, 80% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, higher than the OECD average of 79%. However, completion varies between men and women, as 78% of men have successfully completed high school compared with 81% of women. In terms of the quality of the education system, the average student scored 500 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 488. On average in Belgium, girls outperformed boys by 2 points, well below the average OECD gap of 5 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Belgium is around 82 years, one year higher than the OECD average of 81 years. Life expectancy for women is 84 years, compared with 80 for men. The level of atmospheric PM2.5 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 12.8 micrograms per cubic meter, below the OECD average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter. In Belgium, 79% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, lower than the OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a moderate sense of community and high levels of civic participation in Belgium, where 90% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, less than the OECD average of 91%. Voter turnout, a measure of citizens' participation in the political process, was 88% during recent elections, higher than the OECD average of 69%, and reflecting the practice of compulsory voting in Belgium.
When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Belgians gave it a 6.8 grade on average, slightly higher than the OECD average of 6.7.
OECD in Action
OECD Economic Surveys: Belgium
OECD’s periodic surveys of the Belgian economy. Each edition surveys the major challenges faced by the country, evaluates the short-term outlook, and makes specific policy recommendations. Special chapters take a more detailed look at specific challenges. Extensive statistical information is included in charts and graphs.Read this report
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Belgium in Detail
Housing – Belgium 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 Belgium, households on average spend 20% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, in line with the OECD average.
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. 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 Belgium, the average home contains 2.1 rooms per person, more than the OECD average of 1.7 rooms per person and one of the highest rates in the OECD. In terms of basic facilities, 99.3% of dwellings in Belgium containprivate access toan indoor flushing toilet, more than the OECD average of 97%.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being
Income – Belgium 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 Belgium, the average household net adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 34 884 a year, higher than the OECD average of USD 30 490.
Household net wealth is the total value of a household's financial and non-financial worth, such as money or shares held in bank accounts, the principal residence, other real estate properties, vehicles, valuables and other non-financial assets (e.g other consumer durables). In Belgium, the average household net wealth is estimated at USD 447 607, higher than the OECD average of USD 323 960.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being
Jobs – Belgium 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 Belgium, 65% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is slightly lower than the OECD employment average of 66%.
Unemployed persons are defined as those who are not currently working but are willing to do so and are 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 Belgium, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at 2.3%, higher than the OECD average of 1.3%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. Belgians earn USD 54 327 per year on average, more than the OECD average of USD 49 165.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security, in terms of expected loss of earnings when someone becomes unemployed. This includes how likely you are to lose your job, how long you are likely to remain unemployed and how much financial assistance you can expect from government. Workers facing a high risk of job loss are more vulnerable, especially in countries with smaller social safety nets. In Belgium, workers face an expected 2.4% loss of earnings if they become unemployed, lower than the OECD average of 5.1%.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Better integrating migrants into the labour market
Several regions have responded to a growing ethnic gap in Belgium by establishing new integration policies. In the Walloon Region, the Federal Individualised Project for Social Integration was expanded to help immigrants find jobs. The programme includes a job-insertion plan that comprises language training, skills validation and in-demand technological job training. In the Brussels-Capital Region, newly arrived migrants have access to social, professional and linguistic assessments as well as training and validation as part of the Plan Formation 2020. The Flemish government approved a Horizontal Integration Policy Plan in 2016 to reduce the ethnic gap and has also recruited additional language counsellors to its employment service.
Helping unemployed youth prepare for business creation
The DreamStart project operates as a business plan development course. Participants are selected through intake interviews that assess their business ideas, drive and chances of success. Participants meet for 3 full days per week to study and interact with entrepreneurs, start-up experts and other potential entrepreneurs over a 2-month period. During this period participants receive training and advice from volunteer experts in the private, public and financial sectors. Participants work together to develop their business plans during these 2 months. It is up to the individuals to implement their plan and start their own business. While finance and other start-up supports are not officially part of the support package, participants are often able to access microcredit through MicroStart, a sister organisation of DreamStart.
About 60% of those who completed the scheme started a business within a year. One-third of these worked full-time in their business and two-thirds combined their business start-up with paid employment. Many participants formed their own unofficial peer-support groups following the scheme.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being OECD Job Quality Database
Community – Belgium 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. 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 Belgium, 90% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, slightly less than the OECD average of 91%.
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?: Measuring Well-being OECD Insights: Human Capital
Education – Belgium 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. Belgians can expect to go through 19.5 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, more than the OECD average of 18 years.
Graduating from upper secondary education has become increasingly important in all countries, as the skills needed in the labour market are becoming more knowledge-based. 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 Belgium, nearly 80% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, slightly higher than the OECD average of 79%.
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 2018, 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 Belgium scored 500 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, above the OECD average of 488. The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Reforming education for better outcomes
Reforming education for better outcomes
Though educational attainment in Belgium is high, it has slowed in recent years and too many young people do not successfully complete upper-secondary school. Both the French and Flemish Communities are engaging in educational reforms to better integrate migrants and address the current slowdown in school completion.
The French Community is currently rolling out a reform programme on compulsory education (2015-2025), which grants schools and teachers with greater autonomy and requires underperforming schools to draw up plans to tackle low achievement, provide on-the-job teacher training, and improve social, cultural and pedagogical diversity training. The Flemish government is implementing a reform to enhance teacher training and modernise secondary education. The region has also already recruited extra language support in pre-primary, primary and secondary education to help migrant children succeed. These initiatives all include upgrades to vocational education to better match skills with the labour market. They are considered a step in the right direction in improving outcomes and preserving Belgium’s comparative advantage in education.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being
Environment – Belgium expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health and well-being. Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of people's 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.
PM2.5 – 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 Belgium, PM2.5 levels are 12.8 micrograms per cubic meter, lower than the OECD average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter and higher than the annual guideline limit of 10 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 Belgium, 79% of people say they are satisfied with water quality, lower than the OECD average of 84%.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050
Governance – Belgium expand
Trust in government is essential for social cohesion and well-being. High voter turnout is a measure of citizens' participation in the political process. In the most recent elections for which data are available, voter turnout in Belgium was 88% of those registered. This figure is one of the highest in the OECD area, where average turnout is 69%, and reflects the practice of compulsory voting in Belgium.
Broader public engagement in the decision-making process is also important for holding the government to account and maintaining confidence in public institutions. The formal process for public engagement in developing laws and regulations is one way to measure the extent to which people can become involved in government decisions on key issues that affect their lives. In Belgium, the level of stakeholder engagement in developing regulations is 2.0 (on a scale between 0 and 4); lower than the OECD average of 2.1.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Encouraging citizen engagement
Public consultations for the design, creation and formulation of laws and regulations have become increasingly common in Belgium. Engagement methods include advisory councils, roundtables and special dedicated websites.
The Flemish Community has a long tradition of consulting citizens in policy making. New strategic advisory councils, which include academic experts, civil society stakeholder groups, and private sector organisations have formalised this approach. Together they formulate advice on policy proposals and help draft legislation. This transparent process helps build trust and ensure public concerns are addressed. In Wallonia, roundtables with companies help discuss options to cut red tape. The region involved businesses in the design of the Ensemble Simplifions Plan to reduce red tape for businesses, through the special website: www.ensemblesimplifions.be.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being Regulatory Policy Outlook: Belgium
Health – Belgium 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 Belgium stands at 82 years, one year above the OECD average of 81 years. Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher health care spending per person, although many other factors have an impact on life expectancy (such as living standards, lifestyles, education and environmental factors).
When asked, "How is your health in general?" almost 74% of people in Belgium reported to be in good health, higher than the OECD average of 68%. 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.
Life Satisfaction – Belgium 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. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Belgians on average gave it a 6.8 grade, slightly higher than the OECD average of 6.7.
Safety – Belgium expand
Personal security is a core element for the well-being of individuals. Do you feel safe out walking, alone at night, for example? In Belgium, about 56% of people say that they feel safe walking alone at night, less than the OECD average of 74%.
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, Belgium's homicide rate is 1.1, lower than the OECD average of 2.6.
Work-Life Balance – Belgium expand
Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. The ability to successfully combine work, family commitments and personal life is important for the well-being of all members in a household. Governments can help to address the issue by encouraging supportive and flexible working practices, making it easier for parents to strike a better balance between work and home life.
An 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, jeopardise safety and increase stress. In Belgium, about 4% of employees work very long hours in paid work, much less than the OECD average of 10%.
The more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as time with others, leisure activities, eating or sleeping. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people's overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits. In Belgium, full-time workers devote 65% of their day on average, or 15.5 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.), more than the OECD average of 15 hours.