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Canadians’ wellbeing lagging far behind economic recovery, new report shows

canadian-wellbeing

 

TORONTO, Ont. (Tuesday, November 22, 2016) – Although Canada’s economy has recovered from the 2008 recession, our wellbeing has not, according to a new report from the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), based at the University of Waterloo.

“The 2008 recession stole our leisure time, our volunteer time, our living standards and our sleep – and we never got them back,” said Bryan Smale, director of the CIW. “There is a massive gap between how well the economy is doing and Canadians’ wellbeing, and that gap grew during the recession.”

In 2008, the gap between GDP and the CIW was 21 per cent. By 2010 it was 24.5 per cent. By 2014 had grown to 28.1 per cent.

The CIW tracks 64 indicators to provide a comprehensive analysis of eight domains of vital importance to our quality of life. While economic data are part of the model to capture changes in living standards, the CIW also reports on fluctuations in community vitality, democratic engagement, leisure and culture, education, environment, healthy populations and time use.

The 2016 national report analyzes data from 1994 to 2014 to provide a startling view of wellbeing’s overall evolution over the period as well as its components.

The report shatters the myth that economic growth translates into wellbeing. In some areas, such as Leisure and Culture and the Environment, we are worse off than we were in 1994.
Specific findings include:

• Living standards rose 23 per cent from 1994 until the 2008 recession, then plummeted almost 11 per cent. Now, despite an increase in median family incomes, more Canadians experience food and housing insecurity and employment is more precarious.

• Leisure and Culture is down 9 per cent. In 2014, household spending on culture and recreation was at its lowest point in the two decades measured. Canadians are spending less time away on vacation and participating or volunteering in leisure and cultural activities.

• Environmental progress declined by 2.9 per cent. Although residential energy use is down 20 per cent, there should be much more progress from industry.

• The time crunch is an ongoing challenge. We are spending almost 30 per cent less time with our friends. Our commute times to work are longer and only 35 per cent of us are getting enough sleep – down from 44 per cent in 1994.

• Life expectancy is up and ratings for mental health are slightly better, but Canadians’ overall health ratings are worse. Diabetes rates are two and half times higher than in 1994 and more than one in five people has a health or activity limitation.

• Education is the only domain to keep pace with GDP. Nine out of 10 students now complete high school; and by 2014, 28 per cent of Canadians held a university degree. Still, rising tuition fees and access to regulated child-care spaces remain important challenges.

• Community Vitality is strong but volunteering fell by 15% after the recession. Two in three Canadians have a strong sense of community belonging. People feel safer in their neighbourhoods and help one another. Yet, volunteering was a victim of the recession.

• Although voter turnout increased recently, barely one-third of Canadians in 2014 expressed a high degree of confidence in Parliament – down 14 per cent since 2003.

“When we shift to innovative, proactive solutions that consider more than one domain of our lives at the same time, we will start to see positive change that will enhance Canadian’s daily lives in the areas that matter most,” said Smale. “The report is a call to action to adopt wellbeing as a measure that is as important as GDP.”

The CIW regularly reports on the quality of life of Canadians at the national, provincial and local levels, and advocates for social change that reflects our values and places wellbeing at the heart of policy.

 

About the University of Waterloo
University of Waterloo is Canada’s top innovation university. With more than 36,000 students we are home to the world’s largest co-operative education system of its kind. Our unmatched entrepreneurial culture, combined with an intensive focus on research, powers one of the top innovation hubs in the world. Find out more at uwaterloo.ca.

Costa Rica tops the Happy Planet Index for the third time

Photo credit:   Beth Rankin

Karen Jeffrey is a researcher at the new economics foundation (nef). This blog was previously published under the title “This is the most efficient economy in the world” on the nef blog.

The 2016 Happy Planet Index (HPI) results are in. For the fourth time, we’ve ranked countries all over the world based on how efficiently their residents are able to live long, happy lives right now, and in the future.

Still, no country has been able to achieve the ultimate goal of long lives and high wellbeing for all within sustainable ecological limits. In fact, the results challenge the conventional wisdom that wealth equates to delivering a successful economy, and offer valuable insights into the policies that might deliver long, happy lives within environmental limits.

What is the Happy Planet Index?

The HPI is the leading measure of sustainable wellbeing. It combines four elements – wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes, and ecological footprint – to show how efficiently residents of different countries are using environmental resources to lead long, happy lives.

How’s it looking in the UK?

The UK places a disappointing 34th out of 140 countries. But it’s not the only wealthy nation that fails to place near the top of the rankings – no G8 economy appears in the top 30.

The UK performs relatively strongly on wellbeing and life expectancy on average and in terms of how equally the scores are distributed across the population. But like most other advanced economies, it is denied a place in the HPI‘s top 20, due to its high and unsustainable ecological footprint – a whopping 4.9 global hectares per capita. However, the UK still comes out ahead of France (44th) and Germany (49th), but behind Norway (12th) and Spain (15th).

The most efficient economy in the world is….

Costa Rica has topped the 2016 Happy Planet Index rankings for the third time. The tiny tropical nation is far ahead of the UK and beats many Western economies on sustainable wellbeing.

The overall results highlight success stories in Latin America and Asia Pacific, where residents enjoy relatively high and equally distributed life expectancy and wellbeing, while leaving a smaller ecological footprint than other more advanced economies.

What does success look like?

In Costa Rica, people are living longer, and are more satisfied with life than people living in the USA – although there is slightly higher inequality in how these outcomes are distributed within the population of Costa Rica. What really sets the country apart is that it manages to combine long, happy lives with an environmental impact that’s little more than one third of the size of the USA’s.

So what’s the secret to Costa Rica’s success?

Since abolishing its army in 1949, Costa Rica has reallocated its defence budget to funding education, health and pensions.  The culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods is another factor that’s contributing to Costa Rican’s high wellbeing.

Costa Rica is also a world leader when it comes to environmental protection. 99% of electricity used there comes from renewable sources and the government is far ahead of many wealthier nations, having committed the country to becoming carbon neutral by 2021.

While Costa Rica’s commitment to environmental sustainability is impressive, it still has some way to go before its Ecological Footprint of 2.8 global hectares per capita reaches the sustainable level of 1.7 global hectares per capita.

Like every nation, Costa Rica has more work to do to reach the ultimate goal of truly sustainable wellbeing. But its success, scoring top place on the HPI, demonstrates that there are alternatives to the development paths that have been followed in the West. It provides a shining example of a country that is well on its way to creating good lives that don’t cost the Earth.

To explore the full results, or to find out more about the other high-ranking countries visit http://happyplanetindex.org/

 

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