Weekly briefing: wellbeing in the world
Friday, 28 June: Recently, New Zealand gained widespread attention for the introduction of the country’s first “wellbeing budget.” The government’s promise of spending more on mental health, child health, education and other social programs to address factors affecting quality of life shifts the spotlight away from the economic pursuits that usually dominate national agendas. Ideas about measuring wellbeing, and concerns over whether macroeconomic statistics convey a complete picture of the living conditions of ordinary people are not new. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has been assessing and measuring this alternative kind of social progress for the last ten years, after the global financial crisis heightened people’s perceptions of inequality and life satisfaction. New Zealand is not the first country to introduce official wellbeing programs, Bhutan and the United Arab Emirates have also implemented similar policies focusing on happiness.
Wellbeing and peacefulness
Despite a trend of deteriorating peacefulness over the past decade, perceptions relating to peace have improved. A majority of countries have recorded increases in feelings of safety, trust in national institutions and overall wellbeing over the past ten years. The latest Global Peace Index looked at perceptions of peacefulness across a number of surveys, and their relationship to peace.
According to the Gallup World Poll (GWP), the past decade has seen increasing satisfaction regarding freedom in life, treatment with respect and satisfaction with standards of living. These factors were measured using the following questions:
- Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your standard of living, all the things you can buy and do?
- In (this country), are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?
- Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
On average, the level of freedom in life, standard of living and the feeling of being treated with respect increased by 11, eight and four percentage points respectively over the past decade.
In the past ten years, the standard of living satisfaction and feelings of treatment of respect each rose in 80 per cent of survey countries, while freedom in life satisfaction rose in 85 per cent of surveyed countries.
North America has the highest freedom in life and standard of living satisfaction of all the regions, at 88 and 81 per cent, respectively. However, it was the only region to deteriorate on these two measures over the last decade. The fall in freedom in life satisfaction was caused by a five percentage point drop in the United States, while both Canada and the United States deteriorated in standard of living satisfaction.
Europe recorded the smallest regional improvement in freedom in life satisfaction, rising by three percentage points, while all other regional improvements exceeded ten percentage points. Spain, Belgium, Ireland, France and Denmark were the only European countries to deteriorate in freedom in life satisfaction. These five countries had concurrent falls in standard of living satisfaction, with the largest decline in Ireland, at eight percentage points.
While feelings of being treated with respect rose across all regions, North America and Europe underwent the smallest improvements of 0.5 and one percentage points respectively.
A comparison of these perceptions of wellbeing and corresponding peacefulness scores demonstrates a strong correlation between the two. Countries with very high levels of peacefulness averaged higher standard of living satisfaction, freedom in life satisfaction and feelings of respect than those with lower levels of peace.
As peacefulness increases, so does satisfaction with life, freedom, and feelings of respect. In 2018, all very high peace countries had over 60 per cent satisfaction in all three areas, followed by 61 per cent of high peace states, 50 per cent of medium peace states, 39 per cent of low peace states and 33 per cent of very low peace states.
However, the largest improvements in freedom in life satisfaction in the last decade occurred medium and low peace countries, increasing by 15 per cent each.
Standard of living satisfaction increased the most in medium peace countries, growing from 50 to 61 per cent from 2008 to 2018. In 2008, standard of living satisfaction averaged at 50 per cent in very low, low and medium peace countries, while high and very high peace countries averaged 57 and 77 per cent satisfaction respectively. Over the ten-year period, countries with very low peace recorded the least change, rising by only three per cent. Very high peace countries standard of living satisfaction increased to 83 per cent in 2018.
Treatment with respect improved across all levels of peace, with the greatest increase in very low peace countries, rising from 79 to 86 per cent. The smallest increase was in high peace countries, moving up from 89 to 90 per cent, followed by low peace countries, increasing from 79 to 82 per cent.
Negative wellbeing trends
Even with improvements in certain aspects of wellbeing, feelings of sadness, worry and stress are on the rise globally. This increase in negative personal feelings more closely mirrors the change in actual levels of peacefulness.
Experiences of sadness and worry increased across all regions in the past decade, though most significantly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa had the greatest increase in stress, increasing 18 percentage points from 2008 to 2018. The Asia-Pacific had the smallest increase in stress over the decade, rising by only 0.3 percentage points.
Experiences of sadness, stress and worry are on the rise regardless of peace levels. In the past decade, 77 countries experienced increased sadness whilst only 20 decreased in experiences of sadness. Of those that increased in sadness, 44 had a corresponding deterioration in peace level. Of those that decreased in sadness, 60 per cent recorded a corresponding increase in peacefulness. Less than half of the countries that improved in stress and worry levels had corresponding improvements in their GPI scores.