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Mexicans both poorer and happier than wealthy nation peers

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Low wages, gaping income inequality, poor education, long workdays, shorter life expectancy. By the sound of the statistics, Mexicans’ satisfaction with their lot ought to be low.

But despite weak performance across rankings in the 2013 "Better Life" index released this week by the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Mexicans come out strong in terms of satisfaction. They’re more satisfied with their lives than the average in the OECD – a collection of mostly wealthy nations – and fall just behind a handful of countries like Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark: 85 percent of Mexicans say they have more positive experiences than negative ones in a given day.

It’s not because they’re making more money. Mexicans earn roughly half the OECD annual average wage of about $23,000 in a country plagued by inequality. The top 20 percent of earners bring home nearly 13 times what the bottom 20 percent earn here.

And it’s not because they have more free time. The OECD report calculates that Mexicans work 2,250 hours per year – the highest rate of all the countries surveyed. Women, more of whom work in the informal sector, still bear the brunt of labor at home, too. Mexican men dedicate less than a third of their time on unpaid domestic work than women do.

School isn’t a bright spot, either. When it comes to education, Mexico falls well below OECD nations in reading literacy, math, and science test scores. Few people earn a high school diploma compared to the rest of the OECD field: 36 percent versus the organization average of 74 percent.

Mexicans even fare worse in life expectancy: 74 years versus 80 years, the OECD average.

So what gives?

Faith, family, and pride in the patria, or homeland, may have something to do with it.

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“Even if the economy isn’t great, the opportunity God gives us to live every day is more than sufficient,” says Marina Garcia while playing in a park with her two dogs.

Rosalina Tuma, waiting for a Tai Chi class to begin, says, “I live happily. I travel a lot, outside the country, too. But I would never trade Mexico. I’m very proud of my country.”

Staying happy in the face of hardship “is how we are,” says Raul Gonzalez, a self-described proud grandfather. “Al mal tiempo, le damos buena cara.

We put on a good face, even in bad weather.


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