04/29/2014 06:53 EDT | Updated 06/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Ontarians’ well-being lags behind GDP growth, report says

Ontarians are dedicating less time and money to leisure activities as their general well-being lags far behind growth in GDP over a 17-year period, says a new report released Tuesday.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing, the group behind the report, said its index is a measure that includes several key indicators of overall well-being that aren't captured by traditional yardsticks of prosperity like GDP.

The report relied predominantly on Statistics Canada surveys gathered between 1994 through 2010. The index is based on eight “domains” of well-being: education, community vitality, environment, healthy populations, democratic engagement, leisure and culture, time use, and living standards.

“Well-being is that state that I think we all strive for. It often gets confused with happiness,” said Bryan Smale, a University of Waterloo professor and the director of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing.

“What it really is, it’s that state of being that is what we feel as a consequence of being part of vital communities, being engaged in our democracy, having leisure and cultural opportunities that enrich our lives, but it also includes our health, our environment and our living standards.”

Smale said when the data is viewed as a whole, it is clear that well-being is lagging behind GDP growth. From 1994 to 2010, the well-being index in Ontario grew by 7.3, while the provincial GDP grew by 24.1 per cent. 

“[Wellbeing is] certainly falling well short of what we might expect. One of the challenges that we face is that very often, GDP is used as an indicator of our progress. And it simply reflects the goods and services that are exchanged in the economy. What it doesn’t measure are the things that we actually value in our lives,” said Smale. 

“So when we track well-being with the measures that we use, against GDP, we see that it falls well short. I mean we would expect that if the economy is doing really well, why isn’t our well-being doing just as well?”

Of particular interest to Smale, a leisure studies specialist, were declines in the leisure and culture index. The study found a 4.5 per cent decline in total household income spent on culture and recreation from 1994 to 2010. It also found Ontarians are spending 30 to 40 minutes less per week socializing with friends and family.

“The reason that’s surprising is even in really tough times people have been pretty good about protecting that part of their financial resources that they want to devote to family time, to vacations, to participating in activities that they quite value and as soon as we see a downward trend in that it means that people are less able to protect that money for that types of activities,” he said.

Other notable findings:


Researchers found that the average daily commute for employed Ontarians has increased from 47.1 minutes in 1994 to 53.5 minutes in 2010. This 6.4 minute difference adds up to 27 more hours of commuting per year.


Crime rates are at a 17-year low: between 1994 and 2010, the property crime rate fell dramatically by 64.3%, and the rate of violent offences was 23.9% lower than in 1998


Ontarians are taking longer vacations. From 1994 to 2010, “average nights away” from home increased by 8.8 per cent.


Nine out of 10 Ontarians are finishing high school, and three out of 10 are graduating from university .


Ontarians are living longer. An average Ontarian born in 2009 could expect to live to be 81.5 years old, a 4 per cent increase from 1994.


In 2010, 20.5 per cent of Ontarians between 20 and 64 years of age reported “experiencing high-levels of time pressure, up from 16.4 per cent in 1994”


More adults are providing unpaid care to seniors. In 2006, 20 per cent of working-age adults were providing unpaid care to seniors, which was an increase from 16.9 per cent in 1996.