To find out which factors Americans feel are vital to a superior
standard of living, we began by consulting three surveys that asked
Americans to identify the key components of the ''good life.'' Two of
these polls, conducted by the Roper Organization in 1988 and 1990,
surveyed a total of 4,000 Americans selected at random. The other
poll, by the Gallup Organization in 1990, surveyed 300 MONEY
subscribers (median age: 47; median household income: $61,900 a
Working with the results, we derived a list of nine elements that
Americans deem central to a high living standard. Then, using the
most up-to-date data available from around the world, we measured how
successful each of the world's 16 wealthiest, large (at least 5
million inhabitants) industrialized democracies is at delivering the
nine attributes most valued by Americans.
As you might expect, not all of the qualities cited by Americans
can be precisely calibrated; nor are the yardsticks we chose
necessarily the only ones that could have been applied. After
consulting with statisticians and scholars, however, we are convinced
that the attributes and data we selected yield as accurate a picture
of world living standards as can be achieved. As a measure of
national wealth, we relied on the World Bank's list of countries with
high-income economies based on gross national product per capita. In
order of descending importance to Americans, here are the key factors
and the statistics we used to measure them:
-- GOOD HEALTH
Since longevity is the best available indicator of good health, we
averaged male and female life expectancy at birth and at age 60 for
each of the countries.
-- SOLID JOB PROSPECTS
We calculated average annual unemployment rates for each of the 16
nations during the 1980s.
-- A HOME OF YOUR OWN
The polls we consulted revealed that Americans consider owning a
home as a hallmark of the good life. So we compared home ownership
rates from country to country. As a proxy for housing quality, we
looked at the percentage of each nation's homes with five or more
September 30, 1991
-- A COMFORTABLE INCOME
Since income statistics cannot gauge purchasing power, we examined
financial well-being by comparing the portion of total spending that
people devote to food, beverages and tobacco. We also compared the
share of each nation's household income received by the middle
three-fifths of the population. We reasoned that the less people must
spend on mere sustenance, the more they have left over for goods and
services that can lift quality of life from adequate to enviable.
Also, the more of a nation's income that goes to the majority of the
population, the better the middle class can live.
-- ADEQUATE LEISURE TIME
Since Americans believe that a high standard of living isn't worth
much if you can't enjoy it, we compared annual vacation days and the
length of the average workweek.
-- UPWARD MOBILITY
To gauge opportunity to advance in one's career and make money, we
examined the percentages of 20- to 24-year-olds enrolled in
universities, two-year community colleges and other post-secondary
schools. We also assessed opportunities for women in each country by
focusing on the percentages of female college students.
-- A CAR
The automobile, in addition to being a means of transportation,
has also become a symbol of freedom and mobility. Therefore, we
considered the number of cars per 1,000 inhabitants.
-- PERSONAL SAFETY
We made country-by-country comparisons of the number of murders
and thefts in one year (1988) per 100,000 inhabitants.
To many Americans, the more personal property you own, the better
you are living. Since some items once considered luxuries, such as
color televisions, are now common in developed nations, we sought a
stand-in for material wealth that was readily available but not yet
universally owned. We chose the percentage of households that own
VCRs; they are relatively new and costly, yet have cross-cultural
appeal, just as televisions do.
Once we had compiled all the appropriate statistics, we ranked the
16 nations from best to worst in each of the nine categories, from
health care to luxuries. Since these nine elements of the good life
vary in importance to Americans, we multiplied each country's ranking
in each category by a weight based on the percentage of those
Americans polled by Roper and Gallup who mentioned each factor. For
example, because more than 90% of the Americans surveyed rate decent
health care and plentiful employment opportunities as essential to
a high living standard, we gave each of those factors a weight of 9.
Because 80% of Americans say that owning a home is important, home
ownership got a weight of 8 in our index. And so on. A comfortable
income, adequate leisure time, an automobile, and the opportunity to
get ahead were each assigned a 7 on our scale; freedom from crime
scored a 6; luxuries logged a 5.
After weighting the nine categories, we added up each country's
total points to find out how close each came to a possible perfect
score of 1,040. As the complete rankings on page 88 reveal, the U.S.
scored highest with 820 total points, followed by Australia with 800.
Japan's and Germany's totals were roughly 11% and 14% lower,
respectively, than the U.S.' top score. The United Kingdom, which is
in search of economic rejuvenation, and Spain, which may get a boost
from the Summer Olympics in Barcelona next year, came in at the
bottom, respectively scoring 598 and 578 points.