Costa RicaLearn even more about Costa Rica at oecd.org
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Costa Rica has made considerable progress in improving the quality of life of its citizens over the last decade. Notwithstanding, relative to other countries in the Better Life Index, Costa Rica underperforms the average in income, jobs, education, social connections, civic engagement, safety and life satisfaction. These assessments are based on available selected data.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Costa Rica, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 16 517 a year, much less than the OECD average of USD 30 490 a year.
In terms of employment, about 55% of people aged 15 to 64 in Costa Rica have a paid job, below the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 68% of men are in paid work, compared with 41% of women. In Costa Rica, 22% of employees work very long hours in paid work, above the OECD average of 10%, with 28% of men working very long hours in paid work compared with 13% of women.
Good education and skills are important requisites for finding a job. In Costa Rica, 43% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, lower than the OECD average of 79%. However, completion varies between men and women, as 41% of men have successfully completed high school compared with 44% of women. In terms of the quality of the education system, the average student scored 415 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is lower than the OECD average of 488. On average in Costa Rica, boys outperformed girls by 4 points. This gap is nearly the opposite of the OECD average where girls outperformed boys by 5 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Costa Rica is around 81 years, the same as the OECD average. Life expectancy for women is 83 years, compared with 78 for men. The level of atmospheric PM2.5 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 17.5 micrograms per cubic meter, above the OECD average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter. In Costa Rica, 87% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, higher than the OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a moderate sense of community and moderate levels of civic participation in Costa Rica, where 82% 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 66% during recent elections, lower than the OECD average of 69%.
When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Costa Ricans gave it a 6.3 grade on average, lower than the OECD average of 6.7.
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OECD Economic Surveys: Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s social and economic progress has been remarkable. Over the last 30 years, growth has been steady and GDP per capita has tripled. A strong commitment towards trade openness has been key to attract foreign direct investment and move Costa Rica up in the global value chainRead this report
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Costa Rica in Detail
Income – Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica, the average household net adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 16 517 a year, lower 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 Costa Rica, the average household net wealth is lower than the OECD average of USD 323 960.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being
Housing - Costa Rica 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 of 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 Costa Rica, households on average spend 17% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, below the OECD average of 20%.
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 Costa Rica, the average home contains 1.2 room per person, fewerthan the OECD average of 1.7 rooms per person. In terms of basic facilities, nearly 98% of dwellings in Costa Rica contain private access to an indoor flushing toilet, more than the OECD average of 97%.
Jobs - Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica, nearly 55% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is lower than the OECD employment average of 66% and the one of the lowest figures in the OECD.
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 Costa Rica, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at 1.5%, 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. Costa Ricans earn, on average, much less 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 Costa Rica, workers face a higher expected loss of earnings if they become unemployed than the OECD average of 5.1%.
Community - Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica, 82% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, 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.
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.
Education - Costa Rica 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.
Costa Ricans can expect to go through fewer years of education between the ages of 5 and 39 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 Costa Rica, 43% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, lower than the OECD average of 79% and one of the lowest rates in the OECD.
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 Costa Rica scored 415 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, below the OECD average of 488. The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students.
Environment - Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica, PM2.5 levels are 17.5 micrograms per cubic meter, higher 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 Costa Rica, 87% of people say they are satisfied with water quality, higher than the OECD average of 84%.
Governance - Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica was about 66% of those registered; this figure is lower than the average voter turnout in the OECD of 69%.
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 Costa Rica, the level of stakeholder engagement in developing regulations is 1.8 (on a scale between 0 and 4); lower than the OECD average of 2.1.
Life Satisfaction - Costa Rica 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, Costa Ricans on average gave it a 6.3 grade, lower than the OECD average of 6.7.
Safety - Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica, about 47% of people say that they feel safe walking alone at night, muchless 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, Costa Rica's homicide rate is 10, higher than the OECD average of 2.6.
Work-Life Balance - Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica, 22% of employees work very long hours in paid work, well above the OECD average of 10%.
The more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as personal care 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. In Costa Rica, full-time workers devote less of their day on average to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) than the OECD average of 15 hours.
Health - Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica stands at nearly 81 years, which is in line with the OECD average. Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher health care spending per person, although many other factors (such as living standards, lifestyles, education and environmental factors have an impact on life expectancy).
When asked, "How is your health in general?" around 74% of people in Costa Rica said they were in good health, more than the OECD average of 68%. Despite the subjective nature of this question, answers have also 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.