Monday, October 22, 2018
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Social Climate

Life-satisfaction and dissatisfaction

A previous piece, “Undeserved unhappiness” (Inquirer, 3/24/2012), pointed out that measuring how many are happy simultaneously measures how many are unhappy with their lives in general. It then showed the strong connections of unhappiness to poverty and hunger, based on SWS surveys of 2000-2011.

Are the poor and hungry solely at fault for their conditions? Of course not. Society, as a whole, shares in the culpability, and thus should help to solve the problems. Succeeding in it will lessen the number of unhappy people, which, to me, matters more than making happy people happier.


An alternative to asking if people are happy (masaya) is asking if they are satisfied (nasisiyahan) with their lives. SWS sometimes asks about happiness, sometimes about life-satisfaction, and sometimes about both in the same survey. The concepts are related, but not identical; people’s answers to the survey questions are correlated, but not the same.

In general, feeling happy about life is more common than feeling satisfied with it. Thus, the latter is more challenging.


The most recent Social Weather Survey (March 10-13, 2012, sample size of 1,200 adults) happened to include life-satisfaction, not happiness. It found 31.0 percent very satisfied, 44.5 percent fairly satisfied, 17.8 percent not very satisfied, and 6.5 percent not at all satisfied with their lives; a tiny few didn’t know.

The two favorable answers, adding up to 75.5 percent, are those generally satisfied. But I will focus on the two unfavorable answers, adding up to 24.3 percent, representing those generally dissatisfied with their lives.

Thus, about one-fourth of Filipino adults feel dissatisfied with life, as of March 2012.  This 24.3 percent corresponds to 13.6 million, on a national base of 55.8 million adults. The 6.5 percent extremely-dissatisfied corresponds to 3.6 million. The discontent is serious. Yet it is not as bad as it used to be.

In 13 SWS national surveys of life-satisfaction from 2002 to 2008, the life-dissatisfaction percentage ranged from 23.5 to 39.4 (the record-high, in November 2003).  There was no life-satisfaction survey in 2009.  In 5 rounds from September 2010 to the present, the life-dissatisfaction rate ranged from 14.3 (the record-low, in December 2011) to 24.3.

The median for the 18 surveys since 2002 is 30.8 percent. Thus, the March 2012 rate of 24.3 is not as bad as the usual rate of the past decade.

Relationship to current hunger and poverty. The rise in the life-dissatisfaction rate from December 2011’s 14.3 is clearly due to the spike in economic deprivation in the first quarter this year.

In the same survey of March 2012 (see “Painful statistics,” Inquirer, 5/12/2012), hunger was at a record-high 23.8 percent, with severe hunger in particular at 5.8 percent, and self-rated poverty was at 55 percent.  These are percentages of families; the implicit percentages of persons are larger, since the families of the poor and hungry are well above average.


Our tabulations show life-dissatisfaction of March 2012 at 44 percent of adults from severely hungry families, and at 33 percent of those from hungry (i.e. either severely or moderately) families, compared to only 22 percent of those whose families were not hungry. Thus, those from hungry families are much more prone to feeling dissatisfied with life.

Our tabulations also show life-dissatisfaction of March 2012 at 31.4 percent of adults from families that felt poor, compared to only 15.9 percent of those from families that did not feel poor. Thus, those from poor families are twice as prone to feeling dissatisfied with life.

An analysis of SWS surveys since 2002. The March 2012 pattern described above holds, in general, for the full set of 17 SWS surveys from 2002 to date, that simultaneously included life-satisfaction, hunger and poverty.

In the 17 surveys, median life-dissatisfaction is 28.4 percent among families without hunger, 36.0 percent in those suffering some hunger, and 45.8 percent in those suffering severe hunger. Thus, it is 60 percent more common among the severely hungry than among the non-hungry.

Let us look in particular at extreme dissatisfaction with life.  In the 17 rounds, its median is 7.3 percent in families without hunger, 10.2 percent in those with some hunger, and 14.2 percent in those suffering severe hunger. Thus, extreme life-dissatisfaction is almost twice more common among the severely hungry than among the non-hungry.

Median life-dissatisfaction is 23.0 percent of those from families that did not feel poor, versus 37.6 percent in families that self-rated as poor. Thus it is two-thirds more common among the poor, compared to the non-poor.

As for extreme life-dissatisfaction, its median is 5.0 percent of those from families that did not feel poor, versus 8.9 percent in families that self-rated as poor. Thus, extreme life-dissatisfaction is three-fourths more common among the poor, compared to the non-poor.

As the Philippines reduces hunger and poverty, it will definitely also reduce the extent of dissatisfaction with life.

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This piece draws from the paper, “Tracking suffering and economic deprivation in the Philippines over time,” by Linda Luz B. Guerrero and myself, for the 65th annual conference of the World Association for Public Opinion Research, June 14-16, 2012, Hong Kong. Special tabulations are by Josefina Mar of SWS.

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TAGS: hunger, Mahar Mangahas, opinion, Poverty, Social Climate, SWS
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