Thursday, 10 October 2013

Canadians are Depressed, Overweight Internet Addicts!

Yes, this sensationalist blog post title is a riff on The Washington Post's "Americans are fat, stressed, and unhealthy" headline, but it has a hint of truth to it.

As the WaPo article points out, "We (Americans) are fat. We are stressed. We are on the verge of a coronary."

This might seem like an obvious attention-grabbing piece of journalism, but there are a couple of reasons I care.

1. Canadians face the same issues as our neighbours to the south, we lead similar lives, have similar culture, and are affected by many of the same lifestyle choices. We also both have the KFC Double Down :)

2. The real meat of the matter is the World Economic Forum's "Human Capital Index", a big study that ranks 122 countries on their "capabilities of their people put their productive use in society."

This all sounds pretty cold, but the study does highlight some very key measure of a country's well being and lifestyles, especially around education, health, and employment. If you score high in all three, the people of your country are going to be happier.


The Human Capital Index is a pretty exhaustive study, but it does have special sections for each country, as well as some easy-to-read rankings. I'm a bit of a stats nerd, so I love seeing numbers arranged in nice tables and charts!

As you might expect, Northern Europe dominates the top 10:

The only real outlier in the top 10 is Singapore, that tiny little tiger tucked over in Asia.

What most interested me was how the US and Canada stacked up to the rest of the world, and to each other. As you can see, the US scored pretty poorly in Health and Wellness, while Canada is quite well-educated.

I put together a little table of some key (and cherry-picked) metrics that I wanted to point out.

1. Canada has the highest primary enrollment rate in the world, but still a pretty big gender gap.
The US, on the other hand, is the reverse of this. More and more women are going to university, and the US is the leader in terms of that sort of equality. I'm surprised Canada is so low.

Will this lead to more women in executive positions? It's sloooooowly trending that way. 

2. Canadians have a great life expectancy, but suffer almost as high levels of depression, stress, and obesity as our cousins to the south.

While we have a good standard of living, our society constantly preaches that our lives are never good enough: We must buy more, look better, be better than everybody else. When people judge their own lives in comparison to others, how can they ever expect to be happy?

Our countries are great as the quality of health care, but many people live with many mental and physical health problems. Given how food corporations own our governments, its no surprise that obesity will continue to be a major epidemic.

3. One reason for stress: Lack of vacation time! Most of the top countries mandate many weeks of vacation, and the US mandates ZERO. Canadian companies aren't exactly generous, either, so workers are over-worked and don't get time to de-stress.

4. As expected, the US access to health care is not too great. Obamacare should help a bit, but many Americans can't access quality health care without a significant financial cost. Sure, the quality of care in the US is top-notch, but it'll cost you an arm and/or a leg.

5. Employment - The US and Canada have some of the world's best and brightest people, and also the most productive.

The problem is that automation, temporary foreign workers, and outsourcing have meant many qualified people can't find work. In the long run, this will hurt our economies as fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the products on the shelves. Companies would rather save pennies outsourcing jobs to less-qualified people, than hire locally.

6. Mobile (Cell Phone) Usage - I'm not surprised Canada ranks so low, given our ROBELUS monopoly and disgusting high cell phone rates. What surprises me is that the USA isn't all that much better. I guess a large rural population is contributing to a smaller cell phone usage?

7. Internet addicts - Not surprisingly, us North Americans are on the Internet a LOT, and have easy access to look at cute animal pictures.

8. Social Mobility - Unlike England, or many developing nations, North Americans aren't as class conscious. This is the one aspect of North America that appeals to many immigrants. Even if economic mobility is a big lie, at least you can talk to a rich person without being spat on!