Postmedia news may 24, 2011

By Derek Abma and Peter O’Neil

Australia is seen as having the best quality of life among industrialized countries, one ranking ahead of second-place Canada, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

However, it appears the clincher for Australia could be its high voter-turnout rates, which policy-makers in that country agree are largely the result of mandatory voting laws.

Canada scored at or near the top in areas such as housing, education, health and life satisfaction among the 34 major industrialized countries that make up the OECD. Sweden ranked third, the U. S. was seventh and Turkey was dead last.

The Better Life Initiative survey marks an attempt by the OECD – an economic and social policy think-tank funded by its members – to provide a broader measure of a country’s success than gross domestic product figures.

A key finding indicating people in Canada feel they have it pretty good was that 78% of Canadians surveyed said they’re satisfied with life, well ahead of the OECD average of 59%. Canada also beat the top-ranked Australia on this question, where 75% expressed a general contentment with their circumstances.

The Netherlands, Denmark and Finland were the top countries in terms of life satisfaction, with 85% of residents in these countries indicating a positive response.

The OECD said the average household income was $27,015 US in Canada in 2008, compared to an OECD average of $22,284 US. As well, it found that 72% of the population aged 15 to 64 in Canada has paid employment, while the average in all OECD countries is 65%.

Australia’s results were almost identical to Canada in terms of average income and percentage of the population employed – $27,039 US and 72%, respectively.

The OECD report found that 71% of mothers in Canada are employed after their children start school, compared to 66% in all OECD countries.

The report said this shows that in Canada, “women are able to successfully balance family and career.” The percentage of Australian mothers working at this point in their children’s lives was also 71%.

It was found that 87% of Canadians have a high school diploma, or the equivalent, compared to the OECD average of 73%. Australia was below the overall average on this front with 70% of it residents having attained this level of education.

Life expectancy in Canada is 80.7 years of age, the study found, compared to the OECD average of 79. The Australians did somewhat better at 81.5 years, and Japan was tops at 82.7 years.

As for the environment, it was found that the air in Canada contains particles small enough to damage people’s lungs at a rate of 15 micrograms per cubic metre, lower than the average of 22 micrograms in all countries assessed. Australia was a touch lower at 14%.

One of the few areas where Australia handily beat Canada was in the area of voter turnout. The proportion of eligible voters casting a ballot was found to be 95% in recent elections in Australia – the highest in the OECD – compared to 60% in Canada, which remained consistent in this month’s federal election at 61.4%. The OECD average is 72%.

The report said voter turnout is “a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process.”

However, it was unclear if Australia’s law requiring citizens 18 or older to vote in elections was reflected the OECD’s value judgment of that country’s voter turnout.

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Postmedia news may 24, 2011