You might think Australia is much like the US, and in some ways it IS. However, the more research I did about the country (and finding out about their minimum FOUR weeks of vacation per year!), and the more time I spent in everyday life with friends in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, the more I realized how much HAPPIER they really are! In fact, the annual Better Life Index ranking has put Australia at number ONE (as the happiest people) for the past three years. The ranking is based on housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance.
In addition, the economy seems a lot more stable than most places, the government takes a lot better care of its citizens (great health care options, lots of vacation leave, etc.), and crime is significantly lower than in the U.S.
But wait… you should know more about Australia first…
Australia is a wealthy country with a market economy, a relatively high GDP per capita, and a relatively low rate of poverty. The country has six states—New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS), Victoria (VIC) and Western Australia (WA)—and two major mainland territories—the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT).
Surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans, Australia is south of many countries in Asia including the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and China. To get there from the US, you would need to fly westbound (and southbound) for approximately 13-15 hours from Los Angeles to get to Sydney or Melbourne.
The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast of Australia and extends for over 1,240 miles. It is said that you can see the Great Barrier Reef from space!
Here are some more facts about Australia…
Currency: Australian dollar
Population: 23 million
Government: Australia is a constitutional monarchy with a federal division of powers. The country has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system since 1901 that functions as a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The Queen resides in the United Kingdom, and she is represented by her viceroys in Australia.
Economy: GDP: $970 billion, GDP Per capita: $42,640. A highly developed country and one of the wealthiest, Australia is the world’s 12th-largest economy and has the world’s fifth-highest per capita income.
Religion: In the 2011 census, 61.1% of Australians were counted as Christian, including 25.3% as Roman Catholic and 17.1% as Anglican; 22.3% of the population reported having “no religion” (which includes humanism, atheism, agnosticism and rationalism); 7.2% identify with non-Christian religions, the largest of these being Buddhism (2.5%), followed by Islam (2.2%), Hinduism (1.3%) and Judaism (0.5%). The remaining 9.4% of the population did not provide an answer.
Literacy Rate: 99%
Climate/Seasons: Australia is very large; its landmass is a little under 3 million square miles (almost the same as the US), so the climates varies a bit across the country. The size gives it a wide variety of landscapes, with subtropical rainforests in the north-east, mountain ranges in the south-east, south-west and east, and dry desert in the center. Since Australia is south of the equator, it is warmer in the north and colder in the south (opposite of the US.) Overall, the temperature across Australia never really gets below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average max temperatures across the country ranges from 70 to 85 degrees.
Foods: Australian cuisine is much like that of the US, although the country is a bit more influenced by the British, with popular foods being bangers and mash, fish and chips, and the traditional Sunday roast.
Work environment: It’s been said that Australians work to live rather than live to work. But don’t take that to mean they are slackers. Although they work less than Americans, their standard work week is pretty similar to ours (37.5-40 hours), and the average work day is 7.5 to 8 hours, with most workers starting at around 8 or 8:30am. If you DO work 8 hours per day on a regular basis, some employers also offer rostered days off (RDO), which is one paid day off each month. (So, if you’re working 8 hours a day, then 15 minutes of that time is going toward your RDO for the month.)
Aussies start off with a minimum of 4 weeks of paid vacation and work their way up from there, and employees can often buy more vacation time if they’d like. The culture puts importance on vacation, and the people KNOW HOW to actually go on a vacation, with none of those Americanisms like, “I will be checking my email and iPhone while on vacation and can be reached on my cell at all times.”
A typical allowance for sick leave is 10 days, and one or two days for compassionate leave. In addition, there are at least 10 paid public holidays off, including Easter Monday, Queen’s Birthday, and Boxing Day. If a standard public holiday falls on a weekend, a substitute public holiday will sometimes be observed on the first non-weekend day (usually Monday) after the weekend. Australian employers are required to provide 12 months of unpaid maternity leave to permanent employees, and up to 18 weeks of that can be paid.
Employees also accrue time for Long Service Leave, which means that if they work at the same place for 10 years, they get around 3 months of paid holiday… like a sabbatical.
Although Australians take much more vacation time than the typical American, it is thought that they make up for this lost time through an efficient work ethic that includes a relaxed but non-chatty attitude at work.
[If you want to know more about all the Australian vacation perks, click here. ]
Unemployment Rate: 5.1% (2012)
Education: In Australia, each state or territory government provides funding and regulates the public and private schools within its governing area. Overall, children in Australia are required to attend school from the age of 5 up until 16, but most attend until the age of 18. In some states (WA, NT & NSW), children aged 16–17 are required to either attend school or participate in vocational training, such as an apprenticeship. The academic year in Australia varies between states and institutions, but generally runs from late January/early February until mid-December for primary and secondary schools.
Life expectancy: 82 years old
Drinking/Smoking age: The age to purchase cigarettes in Australia is 18, and it is illegal to smoke under the age of 16 or 18, depending on the state. The drinking age is 18. Minors may consume alcohol in a private residence with parental supervision.
Driving: The driving age in Australia is 16-18, depending on the state. People drive on the LEFT side of the road throughout the country (opposite of the US.)
Interesting Australia facts:
- Australia is not only an island but also a continent… it is actually the world’s smallest continent, but it is the sixth largest country by total area. It is the only continent on Earth occupied by one nation.
Koalas sleep for 18 hours meaning that over an average ten year lifespan, they are only awake for 2 ½ years.
- As stated above, Australians get a minimum of 4 weeks of vacation time per year, with at least 10 paid holidays, 10 sick days, and several days for compassionate leave. If you work 8 hour days on a regular basis, most employers will give you of an additional one day per month. After working for a company 10 years, an employee will get 3 months of vacation to leave and do whatever they want.
- Melbourne has the largest Greek population in the world other than in Greece itself.
- Scientists think Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for more than 50,000 years.
- Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. The only continent drier is Antarctica.
- More than 80 percent of Australians live within 100 kilometers of the coast making Australia one of the world’s most urbanized coastal dwelling populations.
- Famous people from Australia include: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, ACDC, Kylie Minogue, Elle Macpherson, Steve Irwin, Eric Bana, Olivia Newton-John, Keith Urban, Heath Ledger, Liam Hemsworth, Miranda Kerr.
- After a gun massacre in Australia in 1996 that left 35 people dead, the prime minister passed a gun control regime that banned semiautomatic and automatic rifles and shotguns, and instituted a mandatory buy-back program for newly banned weapons. Afterwards, the firearm homicide rate fell by 59 percent and the firearm suicide rate fell by 65 percent in the decade after the law was introduced, without a parallel increase in non-firearm homicides and suicides.
Out of the top 25 deadliest snakes in the world, 20 are found in Australia.
- Australian town and suburb names include Humpybong, Woolloomooloo, No Where Else, End Of The World, Mount Buggery and Ozenkadnook, which means ‘very fat kangaroo” in the local Aboriginal dialect.
So… ARE Australians the happiest people on earth? The ones I have met certainly feel that their country and government are taking good care of them.
What do you think?