Monitoring human well-being | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Monitoring human well-being

/ 05:02 AM December 03, 2022

Upon invitation of the National Economic and Development Authority, I was a panelist at its recent monitoring and evaluation network forum (11/28/22). There I showed the time-charts of four of the Social Weather Stations quarterly indicators of human well-being (posted at

The four SWS indicators I presented were: A. Gainers minus Losers, B. Optimists minus Pessimists, C. Self-Rated Poverty, and D. Hunger. SWS surveyed the first three semi-annually in 1986-91, and then has done it quarterly since 1992. SWS has surveyed hunger quarterly since 1998.


Covering multiple topics of well-being in the same survey enables their inter-relations to be seen. The poor and the hungry are less likely to improve from the past, and also less optimistic about the future. But the connections are not fixed; it sometimes happens that hunger falls while poverty rises, and vice-versa.

Monitoring over time. These SWS indicators are quarterly counts of people according to their well-being (see “Count people, not money,” 9/24/22). For a long time, they have matched the frequency of the quarterly reports of gross national product (GNP).


SWS counts people in terms of percentages of adults (A and B) or else percentages of households (C and D). A and B pertain to changes in personal well-being—described as Quality of Life (uri ng pamumuhay)—from the past and into the future. C and D pertain to the status of family well-being relative to its basic needs.

The time charts show that, despite three-plus decades of growth in real GNP per person, the Filipino people’s well-being has improved only a little. Losers far exceeded Gainers, from the last two years of Marcos Sr. up to the end of the Arroyo period in 2010, except for short periods in 1986 and 1987. Optimism and Gaining fluctuated together, though Net Optimism at least stayed positive.

It was only in the Aquino III period that Gainers caught up with Losers. Gainers finally took the lead in 2015-19, but unfortunately collapsed in 2020-21. In 2022, Gainers and Losers again match each other, and have not recovered to pre-pandemic times (“Gainers don’t exceed losers yet,” 11/12/22).

Poverty is highly volatile. The average percentage of those feeling mahirap did fall from the 70s under Marcos Sr., through the 60s under Ramos and Estrada, and the 50s under Arroyo and Aquino III, to the upper 40s under Duterte before COVID struck. I think the change in poverty is not commensurate to the economic growth.

In 2022, out of every 10 families, five feel Poor, three feel Borderline, and only two feel Not Poor. Of course, these are much larger than what the official lens for poverty is willing to see.

The official schedule for monitoring poverty is lackadaisical. From triennial, the most recent reference year being 2021, it now promises to be biennial, i.e. the next monitoring will be in 2023, 2025, and 2027, probably to be reported in 2024, 2026, and 2028 respectively. I think that’s too slow.

The government’s Labor Force Survey has been upgraded from quarterly to monthly; I think its Family Income and Expenditures Survey should be upgraded to annual.


Monitoring over space. Every SWS national survey is designed to separately represent the people in the National Capital Region (NCR), Balance Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, with equal accuracy. My presentation for Neda included time charts at national- and area-levels.

With respect to Gaining/Losing or Optimism/Pessimism, NCR and Balance Luzon are always well ahead of Visayas and Mindanao. On the other hand, with respect to poverty, Balance Luzon is now the least poor, before NCR. Also, NCR is now the hungriest area, before Mindanao, and the least hungry is Visayas. Such patterns of well-being cannot be found in the national income accounts.

The high frequency of the surveys is critical to their utility. Measuring something occasionally is not really monitoring it.


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