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Beyond GDP? Welfare Across Countries and Time

Sep 2010
Working Paper
By  Charles Jones, Pete Klenow
We propose a simple summary statistic for a nation’s flow of welfare, measured as a consumption equivalent, and compute its level and growth rate for a broad set of countries. This welfare metric combines data on consumption, leisure, inequality, and mortality. Although it is highly correlated with per capita GDP, deviations are often economically significant: Western Europe looks considerably closer to U.S. living standards, emerging Asia has not caught up as much, and many African and Latin American countries are farther behind due to lower levels of life expectancy and higher levels of inequality. In recent decades, rising life expectancy boosts annual growth in welfare by more than a full percentage point throughout much of the world. The notable exception is sub- Saharan Africa, where life expectancy actually declines.