Quality of Life … What about the Quality of Reporting?

March 4th, 2016 Sections: Life In Kyrgyzstan, Maths-Stats, News
Mercer'sQuality of Life Index

Mercer’sQuality of Life Index

Seneca had a point when he said Quam bene vivas refert, non quam diu; It’s how well you live, not how long (… I confess that I don’t know Latin … but that’s I was told it means).

Every year, (well, for the last eighteen years), the American consulting firm Mercer has conducted its Quality of Life survey and published an Index which ranks cities around the world on various criteria, which is used by many companies to determine compensation for employees, (for example, Mercer provides a grid enabling users to link the resulting index to a quality of living, or hardship allowance), and opportunities for international expansion.

Apparently they’ve just released their 18th Index … and it doesn’t look too good for Bishkek … at least, according to Business Insider.

That raised some questions in my mind, that I thought I would share.

First of all, some background as I understand it …

Mercer is a global consulting firm, with more than 20,000 employees, based in 43 countries, and operating in over 140 countries … and their Index ranks 230 different cities selected from the 440 included in the survey and is based on an analysis of 39 separate factors, grouped into the 10 categories:

  1. Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc.).
  2. Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services).
  3. Socio-cultural environment (media availability and censorship, limitations on personal freedom)
  4. Medical and health considerations (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc.).
  5. Schools and education (standards and availability of international schools).
  6. Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion, etc.).
  7. Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc.).
  8. Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc.).
  9. Housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services).
  10. Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters).

The scores attributed to each factor are weighted to reflect their importance to expatriates, and, it’s claimed, enable users to make objective comparisons between individual cities.

Quality of Living - the Top 10 ... and Bottom 10

Quality of Living – the Top 10 … and Bottom 10

Western Europe clearly dominate the top ten cities in the overall rankings with just Aukland (New Zealand – in 3rd place), Vancouver (Canada – 5th) and Sydney, (Australia – 10th) breaking what looks like a near ‘monopoly’ …

Likewise, Africa and the Middle East (Mercer’s grouping – not mine) dominates the bottom of the league table with just Port au Prince (Haiti – in 227th place) breaking this particular ‘monopoly’ …

I should stress, however, that these are only the top 10 and bottom 10 in this giant league table … and is only a series of snapshots.  The complete ranking table and data sets don’t seem to be readily available … the report has to be ordered and paid for.  Well, OK, Fair enough … that’s their business, after all.

The website and press release, (which are both readily available) do give some additional details … and chose to focus on the issue of personal safety as a “key factor in determining expat quality of living” … “because it raises concerns about the expat’s personal safety and because it has a significant impact on the cost of global compensation programmes”.

Although I can see how Personal Safety is covered by some of them … it’s not clear which of 39 factors were used to assess this.


Business Insider, an American “business, celebrity and technology news website” has decided to run a series of articles based on the Mercer results … they obviously have access to the full report.  The first focused on the 23 Cities with the best Quality of Life and the second on the 17 European cities that are deemed the most unsafe … a third on the 29 cities with the worst quality of life in the world.

It’s the last one that features Bishkek … and it caught the attention of a local news agency … which, in turn, caught my attention.

Bishkek is ranked as 21st in this list … which would put it in 210th place in the Mercer rankings.

Now, that’s not good news.


I couldn’t help wondering, however, what to make of the Data, the analysis, the Index, the conclusions, … or the reports.

Let me make it clear, straight way, that I am not questioning the data itself, the index or the conclusions.

… I can’t … I haven’t seen it (them).  I have only seen the news reports.

Indeed, I think there may well be a lot of interest and value in the data … the analysis that produced the index and the conclusions that are based upon it.  After all, there is apparently a mass of data behind the results – covering some 39 factors across 230 cities –

… and even if I might feel that, in my personal judgement, some of the data related to Bishkek is inaccurate (assuming I had access to it) … I can’t compare it to that for other cities, of which I have little or no knowledge.

As it happens, looking at the categories and individual factors … they all seem reasonable … and, my first impression was that I could probably, (albeit reluctantly), accept the data and conclusions.


Those ‘news reports’, on the other hand, just raised question, after question, after question ….

I can’t understand, however, why one article from Business Insider focuses on 23 cities, another on 17 and the third on 29?

It may not have been a point worth commenting on if, for example, the articles had all been drawn from different publications … but they appeared in the same publication and the latest article even cited, made reference to the earlier ones …  

OK – I can see that in one case it was 17 European cities – just a subset of the total of 230 that were included … so maybe there is a some sort of justification there … but …

What was the cut-off point used in each case?  Was it column inches that needed to be filled? (… on a web-site based news service?)


On the other hand and, also, knowing that I am somewhat of a pedant, … but …

I do find it difficult to accept at face value phrases like

  • “are weighted to reflect …” (with no further justification)

OK, so I suppose that I have to buy a copy of the full report …

  • but notice the next phrase ” … their importance to expatriates” … in other words, it’s not about about an objective view of the quality if life available in those cities … but only only the quality of life as judged by a small select group in almost any city …

OK – I accept that is the whole basis of the survey and the Index with it’s rankings … but it is important to understand that this is not an absolute, objective value despite what the authors claim – it’s still an interpretation.  It may be a valid one – but it’s an interpretation all the same.


  • “enable users to make an objective comparisons” …especially when I see the two line entry in the Business Insider report which said …

Poverty is high in the economic center of the country. Meanwhile, the government is battling continual attacks from members of ISIS — aka the Islamic State or Daesh.

Frankly: Although it is difficult to argue with the first sentence … I am bewildered by the phrase “continual attacks from members of ISIS … “.

It is true that there has been much reported locally about the potential threat posed by members of ISIS … and, more generally, religious extremists … but, the impression that I get is that it is the government and security services preparing themselves and alerting the public, in order to meet any eventuality, (and isn’t that what governments and security services are supposed to do, anyway?), rather than actually being “attacked”.

… and then, excuse me!, but this particular ‘news report’ was focused on the Quality of life rankings, not the ‘Personal Safety’ rankings … and there are are a total of 39 factors involved in the analysis … so, why just this two line commentary? … What about the other factors? … column inches again?

OK – to be fair to Business Insider – maybe that’s all the Mercer survey report says … I don’t know … as I said, I haven’t seen it … but I doubt it!

I am sorry, but when I first saw the article, I expected to be presented with something of more substance – even if it was unpalatable.

I was sadly disappointed … On the contrary, I felt short-changed … indeed, I found this to be a little insulting.

It was supposed to be a report about the Quality of Life … what about the Quality of Reporting?

Or are we simply supposed to accept everything we read without question?



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