I recently came across a Statistics Canada Report from 2015 on life satisfaction across Census Metropolitan areas and economic regions that presented ranked scores based on the responses to the Canadian Community Health Survey and General Social Survey. The responses are over the period 2009 to 2013 and the key question was:
“Using a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means “very dissatisfied” and 10 means “Very satisfied”, how do you feel about your life as a whole right now?”
There were nearly 340,000 respondents to the survey and the results for the CMAs had samples of at least 1,800 to 2,000 respondents. Average life satisfaction from 2009 to 2013 across Canada’s 33 CMAs (as shown in Chart 1 below taken from the report) ranged from a low of about 7.8 in Vancouver, Toronto and Windsor to a high of 8.2 in St. John’s, Trois-Rivieres and Saguenay. More interesting is that both Sudbury and Thunder Bay are in the top ten in terms of life satisfaction. Moreover, the proportion of individuals reporting a 9 or 10 – the highest rankings – is highest in Sudbury and Thunder Bay and lowest in Toronto and Vancouver (As shown in Chart 2). Even when the results are adjusted for individual-level socio-economic characteristics such as income, life satisfaction remains higher in smaller communities like Thunder Bay or Sudbury.
I guess it bears repeating that economic success and achievement and life in the big city may not be all it is cracked up to be. Given the surge in rents and housing prices in places like Toronto as of late, and the increased congestion and traffic, one would expect these life satisfaction rankings results would persist if a survey was done today. Even with slower economic growth in northern Ontario, it remains that for many people there is an advantage to living in communities where there is a more intimate and human scale of life.
At the same time, given the higher rate of aging populations in smaller communities and the u-shaped relationship between life satisfaction and age the report notes, it may simply be demographics - an older population seems to be a happier one. While young people are striving and competing and making their way in the world, older people have pretty much come to accept where they are at and are comfortable in their own skins. Having a larger proportion of older people in a community may be the key to tranquility and happiness on a community level.
Nevertheless, northern Ontario can use all the good news it can get. Residents of northern Ontario have apparently decided to embrace Albert Einstein’s observation that: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success.”