The U.S. Vs Canada: Which Country Boasts a Better Quality of Life?

Do you ever wonder if you could experience a better quality of life if you moved to Canada? Admittedly, this is a complicated question to answer. There are pros and cons to each country’s relative advantages. There’s no denying which factors help determine quality of life: healthcare and medical benefits, vacation time, flexible work schedules, worker’s compensation, and salary relative to the cost of living.

However, I’m going to argue that Canada seems to make life the most stress-free for full-time employees. Of course, we are raised to believe that the United States is the land of opportunity, milk and honey, and everything else one could possibly dream up. The reality is not as simple as all that.

Medical Coverage

Let’s start with the big one, shall we? Health insurance and medical benefits coverage consume a large part of people’s priorities when it comes to desirable employee benefits. According to Harvard Business Review, 88 percent of people rank health benefits as a top priority when considering a company to work for. The bottom line for a comparison between the U.S. and Canada is this: Canada’s national health insurance system is defined as single –payer, “in which a single government entity acts as the administrator to collect all health care fees, and pay out all health care costs. Medical services are publicly financed but not publicly provided.”

In other words, nobody in Canada will ever go bankrupt or lose their house because of medical bills. In the United States, this happens all the time. In fact, the problem is so bad that it’s become the norm for friends and family members of chronically ill people to start GoFundMe or Kickstarter campaigns, simply to help pay their medical bills. In Canada this would never happen. Do you know why? Because health care is free there, meaning it costs gratis, no charge, nada. Enough said.

Vacation Time

Although many companies offer employees some paid time off, which usually increases with duration of employment, the U.S. has implemented no federally mandated number of days off. In this way, our country is essentially a right-to-work nation. Sure, many companies and organizations offer some amount of time off to their employees, but compare that to Canada’s ten paid days off and nine paid holidays a year, and our zero looks like a pittance!

But heck, even Canada’s relatively generous paid vacation days look stingy next to France’s thirty (30) paid vacation days off, each year! The French countryside never looked so good.

Paid Parental Leave

By this point in the article, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that employees in most Canadian provinces who are expecting a child are entitled to 35 weeks of benefits—an amount of time that can either be fully utilized by one parent or split between both parents. In the U.S., however, there is no federally mandated minimum paid parental leave. Having a baby but not ready to leave your job, yet? Good luck with that. Perhaps this explains part of the gender-wage gap, or why so many younger Americans are choosing not to have children? It’s because it’s simply not feasible for a growing number of people.

In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, “The U.S. is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The smallest amount of paid leave required in any of the other 40 nations is about two months.” Wow! Just, wow.

Work-Life Balance

I don’t know about you, but all this talk of work is making me feel a bit claustrophobic. Luckily, I am working from home today, so I feel all the more grateful for my employer’s decision to allow us to complete a portion of our work week at home, rather than in the office. The remote-working trend seems to have gained popularity, in recent years.

One example of this trend’s influence is reflected in the Canadian government’s latest policies. According to Capital News Online, a Canadian news site, “The Government of Canada is planning to give all full-time Canadian workers in federally regulated sectors the right to flexible work.” ‘Flexible work schedules’ can denote not only the ability to work remotely, but also the ability to create one’s own hours and schedule, as well. Canada seems to be setting an excellent example, in this regard.

Salary & Social Mobility

Despite having passed a long list of workers’ rights acts—including the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act—the U.S. has a long way to go in ensuring that workers feel truly equal. This is in part because unions have been increasingly under attack over the last few decades, and the widening gap between the middle class and the top one percent isn’t helping either. Contrary to what people might believe, however, Canadians are statistically more than twice as likely to achieve what’s commonly known as the “American Dream”—that is, to start out with nothing and end up in the top percentiles of society.

On the face of it, the United States beats out Canada, in terms of average salaries for college graduates—with the U.S. coming in at $48,127, while Canada trails behind at $36,895. However, one must take into consideration other extenuating costs and everyday expenses. For example, if I were to break my leg in the U.S., how much would it cost me—and how much would the same procedure cost me, if I were living in Canada?

After the election of #45, U.S. companies need to work just as hard to recruit eligible candidates as job seekers need to work to be noticed by recruiters. This means that HR departments should be aware that they need to adapt to the times. Writing outstanding job descriptions and defining long-term organizational goals can attract strong candidates for open positions while advancing companies’ positions in the market.

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In conclusion, the U.S. has a lot of work to do if it wants to be truly become a champion for workers’ rights, beyond simply being a great place to shop. American companies should consider the quality of life they are offering to their employees, rather than considering a high salary the panacea that will cure society’s ills.

How can we ensure that more people become eligible to earn a sustainable salary, one that affords them a decent standard of living and a shot at the ability to purchase a house, a car, and other bare necessities that enable people to live a fully and well-rounded life? That is the question we should be asking. The answers are not simple, but a better standard of living is possible. Just look at Canada.


Image Source: Flickr/Jim

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