Australia the happiest OECD nation in the world, survey finds

Happiness is associated with conservatism and Australia is a very conservative country by world standards -- but which is the chicken and which is the egg here is moot

AUSTRALIA is living up to its nickname of "the lucky country", with a new survey marking it as the happiest industrialised nation in the world based on criteria such as jobs, income and health.

Having sidestepped the economic malaise gripping much of Europe and with near full employment owing to a once-in-a-century resources boom, Australia has come out on top ahead of Norway and the US in the annual Better Life Index compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The findings come despite fresh signs that not every Australian is enjoying the benefits of the resources boom, with tourist attractions seeing a drop in visitors and many manufacturers rethinking their Australian operations because the strong local currency has made exports uncompetitive.

A rising cost of living also is weighing heavily on consumers, who are tightening their purse strings or using the internet to hunt for bargains on items that can be purchased overseas.

The OECD survey - which rates its 34 member countries on categories like housing, jobs, education, health, environment and work-life balance - shies away from explicitly giving any one nation an overall top ranking, but if each of the 11 categories is given equal weight, Australia's cumulative rank rises to No.1, according to the OECD website. It is followed closely by Norway and the US.

Australia's high rank - based on data from the United Nations, individual governments and other sources - is largely due to its strong economic performance despite the economic turmoil in Europe and anemic growth in the US.

Strong demand for iron ore and coal exports means Australia's unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in April, compared with 10.9 per cent in the eurozone and 8.1 percent in the US. More than 72 per cent of the working-age population in the country is employed, compared with the OECD average of 66 per cent.

Unlike many of its developed peers, Australia's government plans to return a budget surplus in the next fiscal year and forecasts its net debt to peak just below 10 per cent of GDP, a fraction of the borrowings seen elsewhere.

The Australian dollar has recently dipped below parity against the greenback, though it remains at historically high levels and is also strong against the euro and pound, giving shoppers firepower if they travel overseas.

Despite a minority government that's sinking in the polls after a series of scandals involving key lawmakers and policy missteps, 71 per cent of Australians trust their political institutions, compared with an OECD average of 56 per cent.

In addition, 85 per cent of people in Australia described their health as good, well above the OECD average of 70 per cent. The survey also found that Australian men spend nearly three hours every day cooking, cleaning or caring - one of the highest scores across the OECD's 34 member countries and ahead of men in the US, Germany and Canada.


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