20 November 2021

What makes life meaningful for people living in prosperity?

Blending the findings of the Legatuum Prosperity Index and a Pew Research Centre Attitude Survey, both published this week, provide some clues.

The Prosperity Index has been compiled annually since 2007. It highlights country strengths and weaknesses, identifying how economic choices build inclusive societies and empower people to drive for prosperity. Relevant factors include wealth, economic growth, quality of life, health, education, and personal well-being.

The most prosperous of the 167 countries in this year’s Index have high levels of freedom, safety and security, education, and health. These countries also have healthy natural environments and conditions that allow for economic prosperity such as protection of investments, favourable business regulations, and market infrastructure. Without revolution, these elements are subject to evolution; change is often slow, and the Index ratings move similarly.

New Zealand in 8th place averaged over the 104 assessed characteristics, has been consistently in the upper decile (and was 6th in 2011). The top ten countries in the Index this year were the same in 2020 (with the only difference in overall pecking order being that Sweden and Switzerland changed places).

New Zealand fits alongside Scandinavian countries which are the leaders in all characteristics save for Investment Environment where Hong Kong and Singapore rate well. New Zealand ranks 4th for Social Capital and for Natural Environment. It is 5th for Governance (confirming other recently published Global Reports), 6th for the Investment Environment and 8th for both Inclusive Society and Empowered People. Legatuum finds as evidence of strong Social Capital that almost 60% of New Zealanders think that most people can be trusted (one of the highest proportions worldwide.)

Less favourably, New Zealand was 30th for Living Conditions,  26th for Safety and Security, 24th for Health, and 23rd for Infrastructure and Market Access.

2021 Legatuum Prosperity Index

1Denmark
2Norway
3Sweden
4Finland
5Switzerland
6Netherlands
7Luxembourg
8New Zealand
9Germany
10Iceland

So what is important to New Zealanders living in that eighth most prosperous society?

The Pew Global Attitudes Survey exploring “What Makes Life Meaningful” found New Zealanders place greatest importance on family.

Pew describes the Survey as finding out what people value in life. How much of what gives people satisfaction in their lives is fundamental and shared across cultures, and how much is unique to a given society?

It posed an open-ended question about the meaning of life to nearly 19,000 adults across 17 advanced economies. The clear answer – one source of meaning is predominant: family. In 14 of the 17 advanced economies surveyed, more mention their family as a source of meaning in their lives than any other factor. Highlighting their relationships with parents, siblings, children and grandchildren, people frequently mention quality time spent with their kinfolk, the pride they get from the accomplishments of their relatives and even the desire to live a life that leaves an improved world for their offspring.

  • Family, careers and material well-being are among the most cited factors for what makes life meaningful. 
  • In New Zealand, Australia, Greece and the United States, around half or more say their family is something that makes their lives fulfilling. 
  • New Zealand, United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Sweden also stand apart for the relative emphasis they place on nature compared to many other places surveyed. In each of these countries, nature is one of the top eight sources of meaning.
  • Those on the ideological left and those under 30 are more likely to find meaning in nature, hobbies, education and friends; and less likely to find meaning in religion.
  • Americans are much more likely to mention religion as a source of meaning in life than in the other countries surveyed

2021 Legatum Prosperity Index™ | Legatum Institute (li.com)

Where people around the world find meaning in life | Pew Research Center