How Is Quality of Life Measured?

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    Quality of life is something we often hear about in terms of comparing different countries and their social and economic policies. It’s also something that can be used to compare states, or it might be something you use as a measure of how things are going in your life on an individual level. 

    Measuring the quality of life on an individual level is something that’s going to look different for everyone. You might consider quality of life if you’re weighing an out-of-state move as an example.

    When assessing the quality of life in your new state, you might look at issues such as commute times and how bad traffic is typically, taxes, and the accessibility of public transportation or good schools. 

    When we hear about quality of life in the general sense, what does it refer to? Why is quality of life an important set of metrics?

    Why Is Quality of Life Important?

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    Quality of life is a more concrete set of measurable factors than you might realize. It can sound abstract and far-fetched, but quality of life is something researchers and policymakers look at as they’re shaping laws and regulations. 

    Quality of life can be related to the health care we receive, and things such as life expectancy and medical outcomes. 

    Quality of life embodies both mental and physical health, but at the same time, it is also still very much subjective. 

    The World Health Organization defines quality of life as an individuals’ perception about their position in life within the context of the values and cultural system where they live, and also in relation to their objectives, concerns, goals, and standards. 

    The use of quality of life measures can help determine how effective certain programs in education and public health are, as well as looking at the outcomes of economic policies and social programs. 

    Health-Related Quality of Life

    A good place to start when looking at the importance of quality of life are those factors related to health. Of course, we all want and likely value good mental and physical health for ourselves and our loved ones.

    There are our perceptions of our health that may be used to measure quality of life. For example, our perception of our mood, energy levels, and general feelings of wellbeing can be useful. Then, there are macro components of health that are important in quality of life such as social support, health risks and conditions, and functional status. 

    Looking at all of these issues can help drive health-related research and advances in healthcare. 

    Livability

    Livability is a similarly broad term, and it’s what we most often see when comparing cities to one another, states, or other countries. 

    Livability measures can include safety and crime rates, infrastructure, urban design, and neighborhood design, population density, and divorce rates. 

    Crime rates, as a specific example of this, can be important because certain crimes that are common and seen as victimless can actually diminish someone’s perceptions about their quality of life.

    Graffiti is a good example. This is a victimless crime technically, but if you live in an area where there’s a lot of it, you might view your life as being more chaotic or more dangerous. 

    Other specific measures of quality of life are:

    • GDP: This can be used to compare states or countries, and it represents the total output of a country. If a country has a higher GDP they are producing more and that means they may have more wealth than a poorer country. 
    • Income distribution/inequality
    • Employment levels
    • Education standards and rates of literacy
    • The standard and quality of housing
    • Air pollution
    • Congestion and transport issues
    • Environmental standards
    • Access to clean water
    • Climate

    What States Have the Highest and Lowest Quality of Life?

    A recent study by U.S. News found that California had the lowest quality of life among all the states in the country, putting it behind New Jersey which came in at 49 and Indiana at 48. The U.S. News and World Report survey looked at health care, education, economy, opportunity, infrastructure, crime, and fiscal stability. 

    While California didn’t do well in areas like opportunity and infrastructure, it actually did score well in terms of health care and economy. 

    CNBC did a similar study aimed at figuring out the best places to live in American in 2019. 

    They declared Hawaii as the best state to live in terms of quality of life, citing that it’s the healthiest state in the country with fewer preventable hospitalizations than anywhere else, and the cleanest air of any state. 

    Next up in terms of the best places to live was Vermont, which has the second-lowest crime rate in the country, state laws CNBC described as inclusive, and a population that’s generally healthy. 

    By CNBC’s standards, Arkansas was the worst state to live in with the lowest quality of life score. Some of the reasons for this include poor health care and the fifth-highest rate of infectious disease in the country, a lack of laws protecting against discrimination, and a high crime rate. 

    Alabama was ranked as one of the worst states because of high death rates from cancer and cardiovascular diseases, and the state is sixth in the nation for diabetes. 

    Tennessee didn’t fare well by CNBC standards because of health challenges and crime. Tennessee has the fifth-highest rate of cancer deaths in the nation and the sixth-highest rate of diabetes, plus there is a shortage of mental health care providers. 

    This hardly tells the whole story of quality of life, and again it’s something that can be deeply personal for most people. What makes someone feel like they have a high quality of life might not be the same for anyone else, but some of the measures used to calculate quality of life including crime, income and, health care, can be relevant to most people. 

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