International Living’s Quality of Life Index 2011: Where the Numbers Come From
To produce the 2011 Quality of Life Index we consider 192 countries in nine categories:
1. Cost of Living
8. Safety and Risk
This involves number crunching thousands of pieces of data from official government sources, the World Health Organization, The Economist, the United Nations 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.
***This year we cleaned house on our data sources, adding brand new ones for our culture and health categories and we revamped our environment category to make the most of in-depth new research from Yale.***
This is something we do every few years to make sure we’re including the best possible data so that the Index reveals the most useful and updated results. So this year, for instance, we dropped the length of railway track per 1,000 people in favor of the number of cell phones per 1,000 people.
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. 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 (20% 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 national debt.
Culture and Leisure (10%). To calculate this score, we look at literacy rates, education as a percentage of GDP, , the number of UNESCO sites per square kilometer 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 and the rate of inflation, to determine each country’s Economy score.
Environment (5%). To figure a country’s score in this category, we use the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) from Yale University, which ranks countries on 25 performance indicators tracked across ten policy categories covering both environmental public health and ecosystem vitality.
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, 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; U.S. State Department; The United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention; Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index; 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.
And, of course, we consulted letters from International Living subscribers and remembered the experiences of our contributing editors and writers around the world.