A Simple Quality of Life Scale

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First Copyright April 2016.  May be used provided proper citation is given.  See note at bottom.

In this brief report, we describe a simple method of constructing a quality of life scale (SQoLS). The UN has a quality of life scale, the HDI, probably the most used quality of life scale. The HDI requires some adjustments and special calculations, which seem reasonable and justified, once they are explained. In this current report, however, we describe a quality of life scale that does not use any complex adjustments or calculations, but still correlates with the HDI at 0.96. Additionally, an expanded version of the new scale also incorporates freedom and happiness, two traits not included in the HDI. One article indicated that  "An ideal population health outcome metric should reflect a population’s dynamic state of physical, mental, and social well-being."1 And so we added in indicators for social and mental well being.

The UN Human Development Index (HDI)  
The HDI "was created to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country"  The HDI "is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living."

There are a few complexities in constructing the HDI, described in the technical notes 
1. "The HDI is the geometric mean of normalized indices for each of the three dimensions." Geometric means can be used when a distribution has very high or low values. For example in a distribution of income or infant mortality, a few countries may have very high rates, compared to the rest. The very high rates of a few countries could skew the arithmetic average to be much higher than it would be without those extreme values.2

2. In using the income per capita, they use the logarithm of the income:  "each additional dollar of income has a smaller effect on expanding capabilities. Thus for income, the natural logarithm of the actual, minimum and maximum values is used."

3. The HDI sets upper and lower limits to each indicator so they can transform each indicator to standardized units between 0 and 1. "These goalposts act as the ‘natural zeros’ and ‘aspirational goals’, respectively, from which component indicators are standardized."

Simple Quality of Life Scale (SQoLS)

The SQoLS was constructed as follows:

Starting with the scores of five variables (GDP per Capita, Infant Mortality Rate, Education, Freedom, Happiness), the means and standard deviations were calculated.

Second, I calculated how many standard deviations away each country was from the mean of their variable. The Standard Deviations (SD) away from the mean is the new score.

Then I averaged all SD scores for three variables, GDP per Capita, Infant Mortality Rate, and Education, for a simple version of a “Quality of Life” scale. Next, two more variables, Freedom and Happiness, were added for a slightly more comprehensive version.

Before averaging, I also reversed the signs for Infant Mortality Rate, so high would be good, which was comparable to education and GDP per capita.
Freedom originally is scored so low = more freedom. Thus, I also reversed the signs for freedom.

128 countries had data for all five variables. Table 1 below shows the correlation of the variables with the HDI among those countries. As can be seen, the average of the three variables in the very simple scale correlates 0.96 with the HDI. Among those variables, IMR by itself correlated almost as high, 0.93, with HDI. The table also shows the correlation of the five variable index with HDI. Freedom correlates rather less with HDI, but still at a moderate level, 0.57.

Table 2 shows the top and bottom 20 countries in the SQoLS (using all five variables) and the UN HDI. Among the 20 countries with the highest score in the Simple Quality of Life Scale, 18 are also in the top in the HDI. Among the 20 countries with the lowest SQoLS score, 15 are also in the bottom in the HDI.  If a comparison is made between the HDI and the SQoLS just using the three variables (GDP per Capita, IMR and Education), then 18 of the top SQoLS countries are the same as the HDI top 20, and 17 of the bottom SQoLS countries are the same as the HDI bottom 20.

Basically, using a simple scale construction can come fairly close to the HDI.

Table 1. Correlations of scales with UN Human Development Index

Infant Mortality Rate 0.93
Average Years of School 0.88
GDP per Capita 0.7
Average of three SD scores 0.96

Freedom 0.57
Happiness 0.79
Average of all five SD scores 0.93

Table 2. Top and bottom 20 countries in Simple Quality of Life scale and UN HDI scale

Countries in Simple Scale Countries in HDI
Top 20
Australia Australia
Austria Austria
Belgium Canada
Canada Denmark
Denmark France
Finland Germany
France Iceland
Germany Ireland
Iceland Israel
Ireland Japan
Israel Luxembourg
Japan Netherlands
Luxembourg New Zealand
Netherlands Norway
New Zealand Republic of Korea (South)
Norway Singapore
Sweden Sweden
Switzerland Switzerland
United Kingdom United Kingdom
United States of America United States of America
Bottom 20
Afghanistan Afghanistan
Benin Benin
Burundi Burundi
Cambodia Central African Republic
Cameroon Côte d'Ivoire
Central African Republic Democratic Republic of the Congo
Congo, Republic of the Haiti
Côte d'Ivoire Lesotho
Democratic Republic of the Congo Liberia
Malawi Malawi
Mali Mali
Mauritania Mozambique
Mozambique Niger
Myanmar Rwanda
Niger Sierra Leone
Rwanda Sudan
Sierra Leone Togo
Sudan Uganda
Togo United Republic of Tanzania
Uganda Zimbabwe

See the data file for data

Gene Shackman, Xun Wang and Ya-Lin Liu. 2016. A Simple Quality of Life Scale. From The Global Social Change Research Project 
Copyright April 2016


1. Parrish RG. Measuring population health outcomes. Prev Chronic Dis 2010;7(4):A71.  

2. a. George Shook, "Demystifying Geometric Means". National Mastitis Council Newsletter, 2011, Volume 34, No. 1 & 2. 
    b. Geometric mean. Biomonitoring California. no date given. Retrieved 2/7/2016 from 
    c. Geometric mean. Baltimore County Department of Health. no date given. Retrieved 2/7/2016 from 

Data sources:

Region and Area definition
United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division. World Economic Prospects, 2015 Edition.
Documentation. Other data

Population data
Total population, both sexes combined
World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, United Nations Population Division

Infant mortality rate
Source: World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision | United Nations Population Division

According to the UN site,  
All data and metadata provided on UNdata’s website are available free of charge and may be copied freely, duplicated and further distributed provided that UNdata is cited as the reference.

Real 2005 Per Capita ($) GDP
Historical Gross Domestic Product Per Capita (GDP per cap)
for Baseline Countries/Regions (in 2005 dollars) 1969-2013
Source: ERS International Macroeconomic Data Set

Contact: Dr, Mathew Shane (202-694-5282,
Information important for using this table.  

I use ERS as the data source because the UN does not have entries for the former USSR countries before 1995, while the ERS data does.

Average years of schooling
worldbank data  
The WorldBank says:
You are encouraged to use the Datasets to benefit yourself and others in creative ways. You may extract, download, and make copies of the information contained in the Datasets, and you may share that information with third parties.  

NOTE: average years of schooling correlates .7 to .9 with percent of people with no education
It also generally correlates highly with percent who finished primary, secondary and tertiary schools

The worldbank data does not provide "world" estimates

World happiness report  
I used 2015 data. The website says, about the 2016 report:
This publication may be reproduced using the following reference:
Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2016). World Happiness Report 2016, Update (Vol. I). New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
World Happiness Report management by Sharon Paculor and Anthony Annett, copy edit by Jill Hamburg Coplan, Aditi Shah and Saloni Jain, design by John Stislow and Stephanie Stislow, cover design by Sunghee Kim.
Full text and supporting documentation can be downloaded from the website:
ISBN 978-0-9968513-3-6 Volume I

According to the World Happiness  FAQ page the scores are based on responses to questions from the Gallup World Poll.

UNDP Human Development Index (HDI)
From the UNDP Human Development Report.  
According to the terms of use page, we are free to share, redistribute, etc, as long as we give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.  

Freedom in the World (PR and CL)  
Data copyright by the Freedom House, included here by permission
Any use of these data should include citation to the Freedom House
1972 data for South Africa is from 1973
Data are included for 1990 and 1995 because former USSR data only start after 1990. No data before that.
However, there is data for USSR up through 1990.

"PR" stands for "Political Rights," "CL" stands for "Civil Liberties," and "Status" is the Freedom Status.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties are measured on a one-to-seven scale, with one representing the highest degree of Freedom and seven the lowest.
“F,” “PF,” and “NF,” respectively, stand for “Free,” “Partly Free,” and “Not Free.”
Until 2003, countries whose combined average ratings for Political Rights and for Civil Liberties fell between 1.0 and 2.5 were designated "Free"; between 3.0 and 5.5 “Partly Free," and between 5.5 and 7.0 “Not Free.”
Beginning with the ratings for 2003, countries whose combined average ratings fall between 3.0 and 5.0 are "Partly Free," and those between 5.5 and 7.0 are "Not Free."