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Recession took toll on well-being of Canadians: OECD

Canada received above-average scores in many elements that make for a better life in the OECD report, from income and wealth to housing conditions, health and personal security.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Many advanced economies are finally on sturdier footing – but is that translating into a better life for their citizens?

In Canada, the picture is mixed. While it performs better than many peers in measures of well-being – from wealth and health to housing and life satisfaction, the OECD notes the recession has taken a toll.

Its measure shows "the average Canadian household has been affected by the crisis, with impacts that are particularly visible when looking at household income, jobs, life satisfaction and civic engagement."

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Its "better living" report, released Tuesday, uses 11 social and economic indicators to assess how countries are faring. It comes as the OECD, along with the United Nations and a string of countries, including the United Kingdom, Portugal and Mexico, are looking beyond GDP to broader measures of well-being to assess how standards of living are changing.

Some common threads emerge, from eroded trust in institutions to higher joblessness and relative poverty. In general, the report finds advanced economies have made "considerable progress" in many areas in the past two decades, though the financial crisis "has seriously affected economic well-being."

Canada fares fairly well by comparison. It has above-average scores in many elements that make for a better life, from income and wealth to housing conditions, health and personal security.

But it's not a static picture. Real disposable income actually rose in the 2007-to-2010 period, unlike in Europe. However, Canada's market income inequality – which measures the income gap before taxes and transfers – rose in line with the OECD average.

Canada is also seeing higher rates of longer-term joblessness, and lower employment. Precarious work – or "in-work poverty," a measure that tracks the working poor and reflects employment quality – is above the OECD average.

Trust in institutions in Canada has fallen, dramatically. The portion of Canadians reporting they trust the government ebbed to 52 per cent last year from 64 per cent in 2007. Volunteer time and time spent helping others rose in that period, though at a lower rate than the average.

Compared with Australia, another high-scoring country, Canada does better in income and wealth, but worse in measures of civic engagement and governance.

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Vexingly, there's no international ranking in this report, nor much detail of how each country has changed over time. So it's hard to know precisely how Canada compares nor whether it's getting better or worse. A UN report in September found Canada is sixth in its separate global measure of well-being.

Tracking "well-being" has its critics. Choosing the criteria can seem subjective, and so can the weighting of each measure.

But the approach is getting gaining traction, with champions including Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute. New metrics, they believe, can help decision makers develop better policies that improve peoples' lives.

Here are some other findings from the study:

– Canada ranks above the OECD average in many measures, including personal safety, life satisfaction, the share of people in good health and women with tertiary degrees.

– Canada is the same as the OECD average when it comes to women's life expectancy, while Canadian men's life expectancy is two years longer than the average.

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– Canada is below the average in work-life balance, the wage gap between men and women, men with tertiary degrees and women's share of seats in parliament.

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More


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