Six quarters of societal progress | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Six quarters of societal progress

Six consecutive quarters of societal progress, as of mid-2016, is the best run of favorable survey findings on the Filipino people’s wellbeing that I have ever seen.

In this piece, the term “progress” refers to an individual respondent’s telling a survey interviewer that her/his Quality of Life (QOL) got better in the past 12 months, rather than got worse, or stayed the same.  Asking about progress from the past is traditional in survey work.  It enables discernment of change over two points in time without having to do two surveys.


The phrase “societal progress” means that the proportion saying they got better off (call them Gainers) exceeds that saying they got worse off (call them Losers).  Note that the indicator does not quantify the individual’s gain or loss in QOL; it is only about whether the individual gained or lost.

Societal progress occurred in the second quarter of 2016, since the SWS national survey of last June 24-27 found that 30 percent of the respondents were Gainers, which exceeded the 21 percent that were Losers.  Almost half said their QOL did not change; less than 1 percent had no answer.


The implied Net Gainers score of 30 – 21 = +9 is the second-highest in Philippine survey history. A positive score means that progress is dominant; a negative score means the opposite. The higher it is, the more widespread is progress in the QOL of Filipino society as a whole.  Net Gainers is a democratic indicator—the gain, however large, of one person cannot compensate for the losses of several persons.

Societal progress in the Philippines has been steady for a year and a half now. The SWS Net Gainers scores were +6 in 2015Q1, +3 in 2015Q2, +4 in 2015Q3, +5 in 2015Q4, and +3 in 2016Q1.  Never in the past three decades has progress been dominant for so long.

The SWS archive includes national surveys done in 1984 and 1985 for the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development.  After those two Marcos-time surveys come the SWS surveys, which were semiannual in 1986-91, and then quarterly since 1992.  With 13 surveys in Cory Aquino’s time, 26 in Fidel Ramos’ time, 12 in Joseph Estrada’s 2-1/2 years, 43 in Gloria Arroyo’s 9-1/2 years, and 24 in Noynoy Aquino’s time, the data now cover 120 points in time.

Societal progress is actually rare. In only eight of these 120 instances did societal progress occur.  Aside from the most recent six quarters of 2015-16, there was a net +2 in May 1986, and a net +11 in March 1987 (the record high).  At all other times, including all of 1988-2014, national Losers exceeded national Gainers; society as a whole did not progress.

Having Gainers exceed Losers is so rare that we call -9 to zero Fair, +1 to +9 High, and +10 and up Very High. On the other end, -10 to -19 is Mediocre, -20 to -29 is Low, and -30 or worse is Very Low.

Not just in the Philippines, but in the world over, the sharing of progress is rare.  This helps explain the widespread disenchantment with Gross National Product as an indicator of economic wellbeing.

There is societal progress within major areas. A national SWS survey is assembled, by design, from separate surveys in four study areas. These areas, with the June 2016 Net Gainers Score in parenthesis, are the National Capital Region (+15), the Balance of Luzon (+7), Visayas (+8), and Mindanao (+10).


Thus the recent progress was most widespread in NCR, where it has occurred for six consecutive quarters, with +15 as its record high.  The Balance of Luzon had positive scores in seven consecutive quarters, starting with the fourth quarter of 2014.  Mindanao had only four positive scores in the last six quarters, and the Visayas had only two; but their negative scores were offset by the positive ones elsewhere.

There is shared progress in each socioeconomic class. In June 2016, the Net Gainers scores were +18 in the middle-to-upper ABC classes, +9 in the D class, and only +6 in the E class. This shows the odds of gaining as positive in all classes.  Of course, the higher the class, the better the odds.

The ABC classes have had positive scores in the great majority of surveys in the past six years.  Recent positive scores among Ds have outweighed modest negative scores among Es.

Absolute deprivation hinders societal progress. Losers predominate among the self-rated poor and the hungry.

The higher the schooling, the more societal progress. In June 2016, Net Gainers scores were +25 among college graduates, +15 among high school graduates, and +2 among elementary graduates, but only -5 among elementary dropouts.  Enhancement of the conditional cash transfer program and more completion of senior high school among the youth will definitely redound to societal progress.

Progress is more equally shared among women. In June 2016, the Net Gainers scores were +14 among women, but only +5 among men.

Progress is more equally felt by the youth. In June 2016, the Net Gainers scores were +21 among those of age 16-24, +19 among those 25-34, +8 among those 35-44, and also +8 among those 45-54, but only -3 among those 55 and up.

Progress from the past and expectations of progress in the future are strongly related to each other. See the new SWS release, “Second Quarter 2016 Social Weather Survey: Net Personal Optimism at record Very High +46; Net Optimism about the Economy at record Very High +56; Net Gainers at near record High +9” (

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