Measuring Quality of Life – A review between France and USA

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Quality of LifeAs part of my Franco-American profile, I am naturally drawn to reading about comparisons and competition between France and the US. I came across this May 2009 article, France Beats America, which describes France’s epicurean passion for “living it up” in terms of eating, sleeping and holidaying. On the eating front, as much as obesity and over-eating might be America’s bête noire, the French make more time for eating. According to this article, “[t]he French spend more than 2 hours a day eating, twice the rate in the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)…” The French spend 135 minutes per day eating versus 74 minutes for the Americans and 66 mins for Mexicans (69 mins for the Canadians). The Turks (#1) actually out-eat the French (#2) by an half hour each day! According to the OECD report, the French top the list for average number of hours slept at 8h50/day… marginally ahead of the equally surprising 8h38/day for Americans. Koreans and Japanese sleep the least among OECD countries, and an hour less per day (7h50) than the French (the OECD average is indicated as 503 minutes or 8h20/day). And, if you are thinking that not sleeping enough is bad for your health, the Japanese lifespan expectancy (86F.79M) outlasts France (85F.77M) and far outstrips the US (80F.75M) which is below the OECD average (82F.76M).

Finally, when you add that the French take on average 7.0 weeks of holidayThe Good Life - Man and Girl bouncing on Beds per year versus 3.8 weeks for the Americans, it does add up to a lot more “living it up.” I would tend to argue that the pendulum should swing back for the French, to work just a bit harder … not just any how, but by adding more pleasure, humour and emotion in the work space. And in the US, I would argue that the focus should be on eating better (not necessarily longer).

Meanwhile, among the countries included in the survey, it was reported that men have more leisure time than women. “This gender gap is largest in Italy, where men top women by 80 minutes per day. The gap is just under 40 minutes in the United States, and smallest (less than 5 minutes) in Norway.” France’s gender gap on the criteria of leisure time is 34 minutes (in line with the OECD average of 35 minutes). Is there any real correlation between a reduced gender gap on leisure time with equality of the sexes? That is far from certain. However, to the extent that women are generally at work and have the lion’s share of the responsibility for taking care of the family, clearly women will continue to suffer in terms of having their own leisure time if the burden at home is not appropriately shared. Below is the OECD report (data from 2006, published in April 2009) regarding the leisure time gender gap.

OECD Leisure Time Gender Gap 2009

While life is about good food, good company (including on holidays) and a good night’s sleep (& good health), the issue is about creating a sustainable model, i.e. (a) making the 45-49 weeks at work more agreeable and liberating; and (b) finding ways to allow women to have as much leisure as men. Quality of life should, considering how many hours are put into work, include the quality of life at work and we all need each other to be in “top” shape!

Your thoughts please!


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8 thoughts on “Measuring Quality of Life – A review between France and USA

  1. @ChristopheFaurie, you are right to point that out. Quality of life is much more than just food, sleep and holidays… and the emotional component and "happiness" are elusive things to measure.

    Doing a bit of research on wikipedia http://㐁훊.sl.pt (sourced from the World Health Organisation), the suicide rate for France is indeed higher at 17.6 per 100,000 per year. As such, on the wikipedia listing, France ranks 20th in the 'world rankings', knowing that the list does not include Pakistan, Afghanistan or North Korea (among others) and that Iran is cited as having a rate of 0.1 (1991 data!)…

    Taking the 30 OECD countries, France ranks as having the 6th highest rate, with South Korea (26.1) and Japan (23.7) taking top 'honours'. The USA (11.1) ranks 20th while Norway (11.6) comes in at 16th.

    Quality of life is emphatically cultural and depends on many things. Suicides may even be termed as 'cultural'. Nonetheless, suicides and the number of anti-depressants purchased, etc. are certainly revealing…

    That said, under some conditions, a long life is not necessarily a blessing either.

  2. In subsequent conversations and readings, I have found that the sleep data from the OECD report would seem to conflict with other reports of generalized sleep deprivation in many countries… The 8+ hours of sleep recorded in the OECD study seems controversial, if not unbelievable.

  3. The best source of objective data I have seen for the US, although it has never been published separately, is data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data, a series of *yearly* probability samples of 39,000 to 100,000 people. In this sample, the percentage of adults who reported sleeping 6 hours or less jumped from approximately 20% of the population in 1985 to 25% of the population in 2004 across all age groups (presentation by E. Sonik, Ph.D., Director, National Center for Health Statistics, presentation at Institute of Medicine, Sleep Medicine and Research Meeting, Hotel Monaco, Washington, DC, June 29, 2005). I am sure it is possible to get the "updated" data on this survey for more recent years on the internet or just requesting the NHIS survey data.

    It was really striking to see how much sleep time went down year after after year in this survey.

    For France, I am really not sure at all. The possible source for this information may be Damien Leger (Paris), or Pierre Philip (Bordeaux).

    The NSF data is also good, but not as well controlled as the NHIS which was designed to be representative of the US population.

  4. Try the National Sleep Foundation (SleepFoundation) and check the annual 'Sleep in America' poll that consistently shows people report getting much less sleep than the amount in this OECD article. You should be able to find several years worth of data; also, the website has other information about the 'required' amount of sleep.

    Other references are more likely to be professional publications; for example, Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine (Kryger, Roth, Dement are the editors) has several relevant chapters.

  5. Dear Minter,
    It is also and mainly a matter of culture. French spend a long time at the dinner table not necessarily eating but discussing and enjoyong being together. Lunch and dinner are also a social behavior… I remember an American advertising on TV trying to help families to sort out relational problems: a guy sits on dinner table and says "If you have problems within the family I am sitting on the solution… Take at least one family meal together a WEEK!!!" In the U.S most of the people come home early after school or work, storm the fridge and leave for another activity. In France kids and parents are busy with huge home work and fixing dinner…

  6. @GD, you bring up several good points. The notion of family time at the table and the amount of homework… In the family meals, during the regular work week, ie for most, there is a choice, essentially between the rush of the morning breakfast versus the fatigue in the evening dinner. For me, the best solution lies in having earlier dinners, with the children.

    Parental involvement in the homework only lasts up to a certain age, which means the family dinners and the conversations at table are the most valuable, critical times.

    Too much homework at the expense of other extra-curricular activities is not healthy, either. The issue becomes how to find the right balance and there is no one size fits all approach, especially since not all schools have he same facilities, not all kids have he same dispositions, etc.

    Here the question is one of personal culture. In all cases, as you say, it is a question of culture, including cultural references.

  7. @GD. I can hardly help adding another comment and that is the amount of time the French also SPEAK about food. At dinner tables, I often find that the French are able to spend oodles of time talking about how the food was exquisitely prepared, how it could have been prepared differently or how the food for tomorrow's meal might be coming along… etc. And THAT is a strictly cultural phenomenon.

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