Working Papers

Outlier Nation?

American Exceptionalism and the Quality of Life in the United States


This paper presents an Index of Societal Well-Being based on nine domains that represent essential components of a healthy well-functioning society: The Economy, Education, Health, the Polity, the Environment, Social Capital, Mental Health and Subjective Well-Being, Crime and Incarceration, and Mobility and Opportunity. The paper describes the placement of 20 wealthy democracies on this index on the domains that compose it. It then presents preliminary analyses of the relationships between the political and economic structure of these countries and their Societal Well-Being Index scores. Ideal typical examples of three economic models–social democratic, coordinated, and liberal market–are identified. Societal well-being scores of countries adhering to the social democratic model rank relatively high, while societies adhering to the liberal market economy model tend to rank at the lower end of the index, with coordinated market economies performing slightly better. There is also a strong relationship between combined strength of unions and left-wing parties, on the one hand, and overall societal well-being , on the other. As a society with a weak left that is also the purest expression of the liberal market economy model, the low ranking of the United States on the Societal Well-Being Index follows the general pattern.