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Is Brexit the First of Many Dominoes? [Chart]

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Is Brexit the First of Many Dominoes? [Chart]

Is Brexit the First of Many Dominoes? [Chart]

UK and the Rest of Europe Brace for an Uncertain Future

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Markets have been turned upside down by a surprise Brexit result and the resignation of David Cameron. While there is looming uncertainty around how this will affect the United Kingdom and Europe from an economic perspective, it might be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of long-run consequences.

A Brexit opens the door for future events that would be previously unfathomable by popular opinion, and it gives vital ammunition to groups that are seeking their own referendums for independence.

Unwilling Passengers?

As the UK ship distances itself from European docks, there are two passengers that may have been more comfortable remaining on shore.

While England and Wales voted to “Leave” with 53.4% and 52.5% respectively, Scotland and Northern Ireland were both firmly in “Remain” territory. Scotland, which previously held its own independence referendum in 2014, voted overwhelmingly to have the UK remain in the EU with a 62% vote. Northern Ireland had a similar sentiment with 55.8% voting “Remain”.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said today that a second independence referendum for Scotland is “highly likely”. She feels Scotland was taken out of the EU against its own will, and that Scottish independence is worth revisiting.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has echoed these calls, instead potentially looking at voting on a united Ireland. Northern Ireland is the only country in the UK that shares a land border with a country in the EU.

Other Dominoes

The Brexit result has energized other populist movements across the European Union. Anti-immigration leaders such as Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen have ratcheted up cries for their own independence votes:

However, it is not just people on the fringe that are interested in revisiting EU membership. Even before the Brexit result, a poll by Ipsos Mori showed that the majority of people in France in Italy want to at least have a referendum on leaving:

Meanwhile, over 40% of Swedes, Poles, and Belgians are in the same boat.

Now that Brexit is a thing, will these numbers trend higher? What will be the next domino to fall?

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Chart of the Week

Can a Shorter Workweek Make People Happier?

The idea of a shorter workweek sounds enticing to most, but would it actually lead to a happier population? We look at the data so far.

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Can A Shorter Workweek Make People Happier?

For many people, the concept of a shorter workweek is enticing. After all, it can be difficult to find enough time for the things we love.

Is it reasonable then, in our quest for happiness, to begin working less? Advocates of a shorter workweek would agree, but these policies have yet to be widely-adopted.

Today’s chart plots data from the World Happiness Report 2019 and the OECD to determine if there’s any correlation between a country’s happiness and average hours worked per person.

What Happens When We Work Too Much?

The unhealthy side effects of working long hours are well established. In extreme cases, however, symptoms can extend beyond the usual stress and fatigue.

For example, the American Heart Association found that people under the age of 50 had a higher risk of stroke when working over 10 hours a day for a decade or more. Another study, conducted across 14 countries, concluded that people who worked long hours were 12% more likely to become excessive drinkers.

If working longer days is so harmful to our well-being, what happens if we work fewer hours instead?

Comparing the Numbers

The tables below list the happiest countries as well as the unhappiest countries in the OECD; happiness scores range from 0 to 10, with a 10 representing the best life possible.

Based on the data, there appears to be some degree of correlation between a person’s happiness and the amount of hours they work.

Here’s how the five happiest countries stack up:

CountryHappiness Score (0-10)5-Yr Average Annual
Hours Worked
Difference in Hours Worked
from OECD Average (1,682 hrs) 
🇫🇮 Finland7.7691,559 hrs-123 hrs
🇩🇰 Denmark7.6001,406 hrs-276 hrs
🇳🇴 Norway7.5541,422 hrs-260 hrs
🇮🇸 Iceland7.4941,491 hrs-191 hrs
🇳🇱 Netherlands7.4881,432 hrs-250 hrs

The five happiest countries each work over 100 hours less than the OECD average. Compare this to the five least happiest countries:

CountryHappiness Score (0-10)5-Yr Average Annual
Hours Worked
Difference in Hours Worked
from OECD Average (1,682 hrs) 
🇬🇷 Greece5.2871,946 hrs+264 hrs
🇹🇷 Turkey5.3731,832 hrs+150 hrs
🇵🇹 Portugal5.6931,722 hrs+40 hrs
🇭🇺 Hungary5.7581,749 hrs+67 hrs
🇯🇵 Japan5.8861,710 hrs*+28 hrs

*OECD data includes full- and part-time workers. While this affects the entire data set, Japan’s high share of part-time workers (37% as of 2017) suggests it is particularly vulnerable to underestimation.

Coincidentally, all five of the least happiest countries work more hours than the OECD average, up to over 264 hours in the case of Greece.

Happiness is multifaceted, though, and we should avoid drawing conclusions from a single variable. For instance, the World Happiness Report 2019 calculates happiness scores based on eight distinct metrics:

 MetricDescription
#1Positive AffectThe average of 3 measures: happiness, laughter, and enjoyment
#2Negative AffectThe average of 3 measures: worry, sadness, and anger
#3Social SupportHaving someone to count on in times of trouble
#4FreedomThe ability to make life choices
#5CorruptionThe perception of corruption throughout business and government
#6GenerosityBased on survey results about charity donations
#7GDP per Capita (Log Scale)Economic output per person
#8Healthy Life ExpectancyYears spent in good health

With these in mind, we can make a few additional observations.

Four of the five happiest OECD countries are located in the Nordics, a region known for low corruption rates and robust social safety nets. On the other end of the scale, economic hardship is a recurring theme among the OECD’s least happiest countries. The falling Turkish lira and Greece’s debt crisis are two significant examples.

To properly measure the happiness-boosting potential of a shortened workweek, it seems we need to isolate its effects.

Challenging the Status Quo

Employers are now experimenting with shorter work schedules to see if happier employees are in fact better employees.

Case 1: Successful Trial

Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based estate planning firm, trialed a four-day workweek for two months with no changes to compensation.

The trial was hailed as a success. Employee stress levels fell by 7 percentage points while overall life satisfaction rose by 5 percentage points. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that productivity remained the same.

Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner.

– Helen Delaney, University of Auckland

Following the trial, the firm’s founder expressed interest in implementing the four-day workweek on a permanent basis.

Case 2: Successful Trial with Trade-offs

Filimundus, a Sweden-based software studio, trialed a six-hour workday in 2014. Staff reception was positive, and the company has since adopted it permanently.

There were trade-offs, however. While staff enjoyed more time for their private lives, productivity across different departments saw mixed results.

We did see some decrease in production for some staff, mostly our artists, but an increase in production for our programmers. So money-wise, in costs, it evened out.

– Linus Feldt, CEO

Interestingly, the studio also trialed a seven-hour workday, and saw no positive effects.

Case 3: An Unsustainable Solution

Public healthcare workers in Gothenburg, Sweden, trialed a six-hour workday for two years. Similar to the first case, compensation was unchanged.

While the trial achieved good results—staff experienced lower stress levels and patients received a higher level of care—the policy was unsustainable.

It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.

– Daniel Bernmar

17 additional staff were hired to compensate for the shorter workdays, increasing the local government’s payroll by $738,000. The city council did note, however, that lower unemployment costs offset this increase by approximately 10%.

Picking Up Momentum

These experiments are garnering attention from around the world.

Even Japan, a country known for its “overtime culture”, is getting in on the action. Microsoft offices in the East Asian country tested a four-day workweek in August 2019, and reported happier staff, as well as an impressive 40% boost in productivity.

While the results of these early experiments are indeed promising, they’ve exposed the nuances that exist between industries and job types, and the need for further trials. One thing is certain though—shorter workweek policies should not be interpreted as a “one size fits all” solution for happier lives.

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Chart of the Week

Ranked: The Social Mobility of 82 Countries

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Ranked: The Social Mobility of 82 Countries

It’s an unfortunate truth that a person’s opportunities can be partially tethered to their socioeconomic status at birth.

Although winning or losing the “birth lottery” will continue to shape the lives of generations to come, climbing the socioeconomic ladder is possible. However, it boils down to what opportunities people are afforded in the country they live in.

Today’s chart pulls data from the inaugural Global Social Mobility report produced by the World Economic Forum. The report ranks 82 countries according to their performance across five key pillars: healthcare, education, technology access, working conditions, and social protection.

While most countries aim to create a level playing field, which places best live up to this lofty and challenging mission?

The Spectrum of Social Mobility

Social mobility refers to the movement of individuals either up or down the socioeconomic ladder relative to their current standing, such as a low-income family moving up to become a part of the middle class.

Countries with high levels of social mobility exhibit lower levels of income inequality and provide more equally shared opportunities for its citizens across each of the five pillars.

Here is how all 82 countries rank, according to the report:

RankingCountriesIndex Score
#1Denmark85.2
#2Norway83.6
#3Finland83.6
#4Sweden83.5
#5Iceland82.7
#6Netherlands82.4
#7Switzerland82.1
#8Belgium80.1
#9Austria80.1
#10Luxembourg79.8
#11Germany78.8
#12France76.7
#13Slovenia76.4
#14Canada76.1
#15Japan76.1
#16Australia75.1
#17Malta75.0
#18Ireland75.0
#19Czech Republic74.7
#20Singapore74.6
#21United Kingdom74.4
#22New Zealand74.3
#23Estonia73.5
#24Portugal72.0
#25Korean Republic71.4
#26Lithuania70.5
#27United States70.4
#28Spain70.0
#29Cyprus69.4
#30Poland69.1
#31Latvia69.0
#32Slovak Republic68.5
#33Israel68.1
#34Italy67.4
#35Uruguay67.1
#36Croatia66.7
#37Hungary65.8
#38Kazakhstan64.8
#39Russian Federation64.7
#40Bulgaria63.8
#41Serbia63.8
#42Romania63.1
#43Malaysia62.0
#44Costa Rica61.6
#45China61.5
#46Ukraine61.2
#47Chile60.3
#48Greece59.8
#49Moldova59.6
#50Vietnam57.8
#51Argentina57.3
#52Saudi Arabia57.1
#53Georgia55.6
#54Albania55.6
#55Thailand55.4
#56Armenia53.9
#57Ecuador53.9
#58Mexico52.6
#59Sri Lanka52.3
#60Brazil52.1
#61Philippines51.7
#62Tunisia51.7
#63Panama51.4
#64Turkey51.3
#65Colombia50.3
#66Peru49.9
#67Indonesia49.3
#68El Salvador47.4
#69Paraguay46.8
#70Ghana45.5
#71Egypt44.8
#72Laos43.8
#73Morocco43.7
#74Honduras43.5
#75Guatemala43.5
#76India42.7
#77South Africa41.4
#78Bangladesh40.2
#79Pakistan36.7
#80Cameroon36
#81Senegal36.0
#82Côte d’Ivoire34.5

There are a number of countries that set an example for social mobility that others can follow.

The Mobility Medal Winners

All of the countries in the top 10 are European, but it is the Nordic countries that sit comfortably at the top of the ranks.

Denmark holds the title for the most socially mobile country in the world, boasting an index score of 85.2. If a person is born into a low-income family in Denmark, the WEF estimates it would take two generations to reach a median income. In contrast, someone in Brazil or South Africa would take nine generations at the current pace of growth.

As one of the few non-European countries in the top 20, Canada also performs well across the majority of pillars, but similarly to Denmark, it could improve in the area of lifelong learning which includes providing support for the unemployed and teaching digital skills.

The Least Socially Mobile Countries

Developing country Côte d’Ivoire sits at the bottom of the ranks, with an index score of just 34.5. As a nation once ravaged by internal conflict and turbulent economic shifts, the resulting poverty rate remains high at 46.3%.

While the government has made improvements to its basic social services, the country falls behind on categories like access to education and fair wages, and retains the highest gender inequality rate in the world.

Despite a significant decrease in the percentage of people living in absolute poverty, India ranks low on the index in 76th place. Structural reform is required across all pillars if India is to increase its score, especially in relation to fair wages and education.

Why Invest in Social Mobility?

According to the report, most economies are far from providing fair conditions for their citizens to thrive, with the greatest challenges ranging from lack of social protection and low wages to poor lifelong learning systems.

Countries that fail to invest in the key pillars of social mobility could experience damaging consequences for governments and citizens alike:

  • Precarity (the unpredictability of living without secure and well-paid employment)
  • Perceived loss of identity and dignity
  • Weakening social fabric
  • Eroding trust in institutions
  • Disenchantment with political processes

Aside from the social returns, the economic impact of investing in the right blend of social mobility pillars could be substantial.

Calculating the True Cost

The report dives into the opportunity cost of low social mobility and finds that if each country increased its score by just 10 index points, it could result in an extra 4.41% of cumulative GDP growth for the global economy by 2030—equal to $5.1 trillion.

China alone could add $1 trillion of GDP growth by 2030 if a 10 point increase is achieved:

social mobility true cost

Although social mobility can act as an economic lever, many countries are struggling to provide the optimal conditions for their citizens to thrive. For those countries, globalization and technology may continue to exacerbate income inequality.

If countries are unable to create new social mobility pathways towards more inclusive economies, they risk being stuck in a cycle where inequality remains entrenched—and history continues to repeats itself.

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