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Group ranks Australia first in happiness

Australia is the world's happiest nation based on criteria including income, jobs, housing and health, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Wednesday.

Australia led Norway and the United States, the Paris-based group's Better Life Index showed, when each of 11 categories surveyed in 36 nations is given equal weight.

Life expectancy at birth in Australia is almost 82 years, two years higher than the OECD average, the survey showed. More than 72 percent of people ages 15 to 64 in Australia have a paid job, above the OECD average of 66 percent.

Australia was the only major developed nation to avoid the 2009 worldwide recession, and the government is aiming to return its budget to surplus in the fiscal year beginning July 1. A mining investment boom has spurred hiring and driven the unemployment rate below 5 percent, even as an elevated currency hurts manufacturing and tourism.

"Australia performs exceptionally well in measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top countries in a large number of topics in the Better Life Index," the OECD said.

As Europe faces years of fiscal austerity, Australia's budget surplus would make it one of the first developed nations to emerge from an era of red ink caused by the worldwide financial crisis that started in 2008.

Australia's unemployment rate will rise to the highest level since 2009 as industries outside of mining struggle with an elevated currency, the OECD said in its economic outlook released Tuesday in Paris.