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OECD Perspectives: The Secret to a Happy Safe Life


OECD - Romina Boarini

- Global

- Apr 22 2014

Want to know the secret recipe to a happy life? To some extent it’s similar to making an Indian curry! There are a million different recipes for making curry and while the exact combination of ingredients varies according to people’s tastes, the basic ingredients are strikingly very common. Safety is one of these basic ingredients.


Safety matters for a wide range of activities that we engage in every day. Physical and mental safety matter tremendously for a good working environment. In most countries around the world, these factors are not only guaranteed by the constitution but they are also increasingly considered as strategic levers of organisational well-being and business performance. Similarly, safety is one of the most important determinants of people’s residential choices and more generally of people’s capacity to engage actively with their neighbourhood in all kinds of social activities. Safety also conditions our mobility and more generally our sense of freedom. 

But does safety buy happiness as well? The answer is yes. Cross-national research on determinants of life satisfaction and personal feelings finds that safety (both perceived and experienced) is a very important factor behind people’s sense of well-being. It is, in fact, as important as personal income. However, not everyone is equally affected by the lack of security. Interestingly, when looking at objective safety measures, such as, for instance, homicides or self-reported victimisation, men are much more likely to be the victims. However, purely subjective measures of safety, captured for instance by questions such as “do you feel safe when walking home” show that women tend to be much more concerned by the lack of safety (refer to chart). 

The same type of gap exists between objective and subjective measures of security in countries like Luxembourg, Australia and New Zealand where, despite the low objective criminality rates, people report feeling unsafe in a relatively high proportion. Is there an explanation to these differences? In terms of gender, many studies show that one of the reasons less women are killed or assaulted is exactly due to their high feelings of insecurity. As women are more safety risk-averse, they end up taking fewer risks (e.g. going out at night). The contrary would be true for men. In terms of objective versus subjective gaps in specific countries, research is less clear. However, cultural factors are deemed to play a role together with other socio-economic factors.

One way to shed light on this issue is to look at what people think of safety and to what extent they believe that safety is important to their lives. The OECD Better Life Index invites citizens to express their views on the relative importance of factors that shape their lives and safety is one of these (see: www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/safety). While for most of OECD countries safety is not among the dimensions that are rated the highest in terms of priority (life satisfaction, health and education matter the most), some countries are an exception to this rule. For instance in Japan and South Korea safety comes up as being much more important in relative terms than in other countries of the world. By contrast, safety seems to matter less in countries such as Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy and Sweden – where objective criminality rates are low – but also in Chile and the United States – where the objective picture is not so good.

Romina Boarini
Head of the Monitoring Well-Being and Progress Section, OECD Statistics Directorate

About the OECD: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a global economic policy forum. It provides analysis and advice to its 34 member governments and other countries worldwide, promoting better policies for better lives.

 

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OECD Perspectives: The Secret to a Happy Safe Life

Want to know the secret recipe to a happy life? To some extent it’s similar to making an Indian curry! There are a million different recipes for making curry and while the exact combination of ingredients varies according to people’s tastes, the basic ingredients are strikingly very common. Safety is one of these basic ingredients.

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