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Canadian Index of Wellbeing (2016)

January 25, 201725 January 2017

Arts indicators / Well-being

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The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) looks beyond the key national economic indicator (Gross Domestic Product, or GDP) to attempt to measure “those areas of our lives that we care about the most, like education, health, the environment, and the relationships we have with others”. The CIW defines wellbeing as “the presence of the highest possible quality of life in its full breadth of expression focused on but not necessarily exclusive to: good living standards, robust health, a sustainable environment, vital communities, an educated populace, balanced time use, high levels of democratic participation, and access to and participation in leisure and culture”.

The CIW tracks 64 indicators related to eight domains, including “leisure and culture”. The index tracks these indicators back to 1994, and the index was set to 100 in that year. The overall Canadian Index of Wellbeing saw a 9.9% increase between 1994 and 2014, while GDP increased by 38% over this timeframe.

The report notes that leisure and culture contribute to individual and collective well-being, life satisfaction, and quality of life. The leisure and culture portion of the index decreased by 9.3% between 1994 and 2014, although it has recovered slightly from its lowest level in 2011. The environment was the only other domain to see an index decrease (2.9%) between 1994 and 2014.

The health of leisure and culture is estimated using eight indicators, five of which relate to the arts, culture, and heritage. (In comparison, three culture-specific indexes from the U.S. and England, reviewed in this issue of the Arts Research Monitor, include 12, 20, and 81 indicators.) Two key culture-related indicators in the CIW report also include recreation activities: hours spent volunteering for culture and recreation organizations and the percentage of household spending on culture and recreation.

The report indicates that “Canadians are spending substantially less of their incomes on culture and recreation, down 15.1% from 1994 levels, the bulk of which has occurred in the years since the recession” (2008/09). It should be noted, however, that Hill Strategies Research has not compared recent statistics on household spending on culture with data from 2009 or earlier, due to significant methodological changes in Statistics Canada’s household spending survey in 2010. It does not appear that CIW researchers accounted for this change in survey methodology.

Other culture-related indicators with a decrease between 1994 and 2014 include time spent on arts and culture activities and average number of hours spent volunteering for culture and recreation organizations. Two other culture-related indicators saw recent increases after previously declining: average attendance per performance at performing arts events and visits to national parks and historic sites.

The report argues that “leisure should be regarded not just as a basic human right, but should be considered a public good”. In this regard, the report urges governments to ensure “universal access to leisure and culture”.

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