New measures of wellbeing

‘New measures of wellbeing’ is a framework of 15 indicators of economic, environmental and social dimensions of quality of life. The indicators, intended to complement GDP as a measure, will be an instrument for monitoring trends in people’s quality of life and the long-term sustainability of the economy.

Illustration: Government Offices of Sweden.

GDP is an important measure used to describe economic growth. It is clear and simple, yet provides only a limited picture of a society's development. This is why a number of additional indicators are needed to complement GDP to provide a picture of the development of wellbeing. Conditions for economic growth and the development of wellbeing depend on both the quantity of resources generated and how they are distributed, used and managed. New measures of wellbeing is a new framework for monitoring trends in people's quality of life and the long-term sustainability of the economy.

GDP per capita

Although a rise in GDP generally leads to higher levels of wellbeing, this is not always the case. One reason for this is that GDP does not take account of how the output produced is distributed among the population. GDP per capita takes account of changes in population growth but does not reflect trends in income disparity, for example, in society.

Employment rate

When more people support themselves through work, resources are freed up in the public sector, as pressure on the public transfer system is reduced. When more people work, income disparities also decline. A high employment rate makes it possible to strengthen the public welfare system. Despite a high employment rate, unemployment can also be high if labour force participation is high. This is why both the employment rate and unemployment rate indicators are necessary to show labour market trends.

Unemployment rate

Work offers a sense of community, belonging and financial security. The unemployment rate measures the proportion of the labour force that does not have a job but is willing and able to work. Unemployment can have a significant impact on wellbeing. Work offers individuals the opportunity to support themselves and better prospects of shaping their own lives.

Household debt

Households in Sweden are taking on more and more debt, which can entail a risk. This risk is both at the individual level, where consequences for the individual can be considerable if interest rates rise or housing prices fall. High-debt households can also have macroeconomic effects if people are forced to reduce consumption in the event of a housing price crash. In the long run, both growth and employment may be adversely affected.

General government consolidated gross debt

This indicator shows the general government consolidated gross debt as a percentage of GDP, often referred to as the Maastricht debt. This is the measure of general government debt used in the EU. Through the Stability and Growth Pact, all EU countries have pledged to keep their general government consolidated gross debt below the threshold of 60 per cent of GDP. Keeping this level low is important for long-term economic sustainability.

Air quality

Air pollution can cause serious health problems and contribute to acidification and eutrophication. The air quality indicator shows the development of two of the most common and hazardous forms of air pollution in Swedish cities: nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Air pollution is mainly caused by road traffic, where heavy and light diesel vehicles account for the bulk of nitrogen dioxide emissions.

Water quality

Good quality water is vital for drinking water and many aquatic animals and plants. The water quality indicator shows bodies of water that have 'high' or 'good' status under the EU Water Framework Directive. This indicator also provides an overview of the main water-related problems: eutrophication, certain pollutants and physical impacts.

Protected natural environments

Long-term protection is important for preserving the world's natural and cultural heritage, and for safeguarding fundamental values, such as clean water, clear air and unspoiled natural environments. This indicator shows the proportion of Sweden's natural environments, including national parks, nature reserves and nature conservation areas, under long-term protection.

Chemical body burden

The chemical body burden indicator measures the burden of toxic chemicals in people's bodies. Monitoring levels of dangerous chemicals over time provides an overview of the substances we are exposed to and the amounts involved. The indicator shows that chemical body burdens are declining slowly despite bans restricting the use and spread of such substances. One problem is that these substances persist in the environment, accumulate in the fatty tissues of humans and animals, and are already widespread in products, buildings and the environment.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Tackling climate change is one of humanity's greatest challenges. The continued emission of greenhouse gases at current rates will increase the risk of serious, drastic and irreversible consequences for humanity and ecosystems. Measurements of greenhouse gas emissions are made of the overall emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, and are linked to the environmental quality objective 'Reduced climate impact' and the intermediate target 'Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2020'.

Low economic standard

The low economic standard indicator refers to the proportion of the population with a disposable income that is less than 60 per cent of the median income. The EU defines low economic standard as the proportion of the population whose income is so low that it is below the at-risk-for-poverty threshold. Even though physical needs are met, relative poverty can result in individuals not being able to fully participate in social relations and contexts.

Self-perceived general health

Good health is an important prerequisite for a good life. But measuring health is complex since many different factors contribute to good health. The self-perceived general health indicator has the advantage of providing an overall picture of a respondent's perceived physical and mental health in a single measurement. Self-perceived general health is reported as the proportion of the population that perceives their health as good or very good.

Level of education

It is important to follow trends in educational levels, particularly as several of the other social indicators in this framework have a clear connection to education level. This indicator concerns the highest level of education completed according to Swedish Educational Terminology.

Interpersonal trust

High levels of trust between people can be regarded as a component of social capital – the glue that holds society together – while low levels of trust can create problems. Whether an individual can ask those around them for help and support in different situations is one example of how social trust increases quality of life. High levels of trust and broad social networks also facilitate business transactions and matching in housing and labour markets.

Life satisfaction

Life satisfaction is a measure of subjective wellbeing. Subjective wellbeing is generally high in prosperous, democratic and politically stable societies characterised by low unemployment, effective exercise of public authority, observance of legal rights and low corruption. At an individual level, close relationships have the greatest impact on life satisfaction; but meaningful work and a fulfilling leisure time are also very important. Monitoring trends in life satisfaction provides an important contribution to determine the direction of policy.