Poverty, hunger and unhappiness | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Poverty, hunger and unhappiness

/ 09:08 AM April 06, 2019

The happiness of a people is not fixed over time, but rises in some time periods, and falls in others. Two weeks ago, I reported SWS data showing that happiness among Filipinos in 2018 was not only less than in 2017, but also at its lowest in five years (“Scales of happiness,” Opinion, 3/23/19, based on “Fourth Quarter 2018 Social Weather Survey: Happiness and Satisfaction with Life fall to lowest levels since 2014,” www.sws.org.ph, 3/17/19).

Last week, I cited the finding of the World Happiness Report (WHR) 2019 that, comparing 2016-18 and 2005-08, the Philippines has a very high world ranking in improvement of its ladder-rating between the worst and the best imaginable life (“PH is 12th in happiness progress,” Opinion, 3/30/19). The WHR uses ladder-ratings generated by the Gallup World Poll as a proprietary enterprise.


Life-satisfaction. The decade-long ladder uptrend in the Philippines is confirmed by SWS surveys on life-satisfaction (LS). Question items about the ladder, satisfaction with life, and the word “happiness” are alternate ways of surveying happiness.

In four SWS surveys on LS at the WHR starting date of 2005-08, the average very satisfied + fairly satisfied with life was 67.0 percent. In nine SWS surveys at the WHR ending date of 2016-18, the average satisfied with life was 87.4 percent, or a substantial total increase of 20.4 points.


In-between the WHR’s starting and ending dates, in 12 SWS surveys on LS during 2010-15 (LS was not surveyed in 2009), the average satisfied with life was 81.7 percent, or a 14.7-point gain from the starting date. Thus, three-fourths of the substantial progress in happiness between Arroyo’s time and Duterte’s time happened in Noynoy Aquino’s time.

Economic deprivation and dissatisfaction with life. From the LS surveys, the percentage not satisfied with life is a measure of unhappiness among the Filipino people. In December 2018, 82 percent of Filipino adults said they were satisfied with life, and the remaining 18 percent said they were not, i.e., at that time 18 percent were unhappy. Those satisfied with life had fallen from 92 percent in December 2017, implying that dissatisfaction with life, or unhappiness, had risen from only 8 percent the year before.

SWS’ quarterly monitoring of economic deprivation allows separate analysis of the poor versus the non-poor, and the hungry versus the non-hungry, in every Social Weather Survey.

For December 2018, unhappiness among the poor was 23 percent, compared to only 12 percent among the non-poor. Furthermore, unhappiness among the hungry, in December 2018, was 32 percent—30 percent if moderately hungry, 43 percent if severely hungry—compared to only 16 percent among the non-hungry. At any point in time, unhappiness is directly related to both poverty and hunger, as well as to the degree of hunger.

Furthermore, the rates of unhappiness among either the deprived or the non-deprived are not fixed, but can vary over time, upward or downward. In December 2017, unhappiness among the poor was 9 percent, compared to 7 percent among the non-poor. It was 13 percent among the hungry—9 percent if moderately hungry, 26 percent if severely hungry—compared to 6 percent among the non-hungry.

Comparing late 2018 to late 2017, one can see that the rates of unhappiness rose both among the poor and among the hungry; this would induce overall unhappiness to rise, even with unchanged incidences of poverty or hunger.

In actuality, poverty rose while hunger fell, over 2017-18. The rise in poverty provoked more unhappiness, which the fall in hunger was unable to offset.

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TAGS: Aquino, arroyo, Duterte, economic, happiness, hunger, Mangahas, Poverty, Social Climate, survey, SWS survey, WHR, World Happiness Report
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