International Living’s Quality of Life Index 2010: Where the Numbers Come From
To produce the Quality of Life Index we consider 194 countries in nine categories:
- Cost of Living
- Culture and Leisure
- Safety and Risk
This involves number crunching thousands of pieces of data from official government sources, the World Health Organization, The Economist, and many other journals, tables, and records (see the full list of sources below)
But, we realize, you can’t quantify quality of life by numbers alone. Quality of life relates to something broader. Opening your front door in the morning and being able to wiggle your toes in the sand may be more important to you than cost of living. You may rate good neighbors and good doctors above infrastructure in a country. Perhaps the state of the economy means less to you than the pleasure derived from watching a perfectly executed tango. It is for these reasons that, as well as using statistical data in our Quality of Life Index, we ask our far-flung editors and readers to tell us about their quality of life in the countries in which they have chosen to live.
Marks Out of 100
We present each country in each category graded on a curve—each country is scored relative to every other country. In each category you can see that the scores run 0 to 100. This means the country that gets 0 is the worst in that category, and the country that gets 100 is the best. We do this to make the Index easier to read—so, if a score is a low number or a high number, you know right away if that’s a good or a bad thing.
We Admit It—We’re Biased
For the record, we’re biased. For every category, we had to make decisions. And, when the numbers our research returned seemed incredible to us…we favored our own experience over published government statistics.
Our sources, staff, and contributing editors are all influenced by a Western bias. We have definite, preconceived ideas about what constitutes a high or low standard of living, what constitutes culture and entertainment, and what climate is the most enjoyable. We also consider the world from the point of view of the majority of our readers—Americans spending U.S. dollars.
Please also remember that statistics obtained from official government sources are not always current, accurate, or reliable. And some statistics are highly subjective. What someone else might consider a museum, you might think of as a garden shed.
Other statistics may be estimated, outdated, or incorrect for any number of reasons. Since the statistics we gathered don’t always reflect our own experiences, we sometimes interject a subjective factor to make the numbers better reflect reality.
Where the Numbers Come From
To calculate the final scores in this year’s Quality of Life Index, we weight each category according to the percentages given below.
Cost of Living (15% of the final ranking). This is a guide to how much it will cost you to live in a style comparable to—or better than—the standard of living you’re likely enjoying in the U.S. Our primary source in this category is the U.S. State Department’s Index of Overseas Living Costs, used to compute cost-of-living allowances for a Western-style of living in various countries. We also consider each country’s income tax rates and national debt.
Culture and Leisure (10%). To calculate this score, we look at literacy rate, newspaper circulation, primary and secondary school enrollment ratios, number of people per museum, and a subjective rating of the variety of cultural and recreational offerings.
Economy (15%). We consider interest rates, GDP, GDP growth rate, GDP per capita, the inflation rate, and GNP per capita to determine each country’s Economy score.
Environment (10%). To figure a country’s score in this category, we look at population density per square kilometer, population growth rate, greenhouse emissions per capita, and the percentage of total land that is protected.
Freedom (10%). Freedom House’s survey is the main source for these scores, with an emphasis on a citizen’s political rights and civil liberties.
Health (10%). In this category, we look at calorie consumption as a percentage of daily requirements, the number of people per doctor, the number of hospital beds per 1,000 people, the percentage of the population with access to safe water, the infant mortality rate, life expectancy, and public health expenditure as a percentage of a country’s GDP.
Infrastructure (10%). To calculate a country’s Infrastructure score, we look at the length of railways, paved highways, and navigable waterways in each country, and equated these things to each country’s population and size. We also consider the number of airports, motor vehicles, telephones, Internet service providers, and cell phones per capita.
Safety and Risk (10%). For this category, we use the U.S. Department of State’s hardship differentials and danger allowances, which are based on extraordinarily difficult, notably unhealthy, or dangerous living conditions.
Climate (10%). When deciding on a score for each country’s climate, we look at its average annual rainfall and average temperature…and consider its risk for natural disasters.
We used the following sources to compile the data for our Quality of Life Index: UNESCO Statistical Yearbook; Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties; United States Department of Commerce; U.S. State Department; The United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention; The Freedom House Survey; Statistical Abstract of the United States; The World Factbook; The World Almanac and Book of Facts; The World Bank Atlas; Gale Country and World Rankings Reporter; U.S. Department of State Indexes of Living Costs Abroad, Quarters Allowances, and Hardship Differentials; The World Health Organization; UN Statistical Yearbook; The Economist World in Figures.
We also used popular newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, Time, and The Economist.
And, of course, we consulted letters from International Living subscribers and remembered the experiences of our contributing editors and writers around the world.
See International Living’s 2010 Quality of Life Index.