South Africans Rate Their Lives Worse in 2010

by Magali Rheault and Bob Tortora

Lack of jobs is South Africans' top concern regardless of wellbeing status

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- South Africans rated their lives worse in 2010 than they have in the past several years, with their ratings dropping below a 5 on a scale from 0 to 10 for the first time. South Africans' mean score of 4.7 is still among the higher ratings in sub-Saharan Africa.

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The nearly half-point drop in South Africans' present evaluative wellbeing is one of the largest across the 11 sub-Saharan African countries that Gallup has surveyed annually since 2006. South Africans' assessments of their present lives are now on par with those in Zimbabwe and several other countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria.

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Despite their relative pessimism about their present lives, South Africans are optimistic about better days ahead; their mean score of 7.7 in 2010 for their future lives stands at pre-global recession levels. Still, other countries are moving in a more positive direction. Zimbabweans, for example, rated their future lives 3.1 points higher between 2006 and 2010.

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The latest Gallup survey results from Zimbabwe, fielded earlier this year, show life evaluation ratings remain positive; 2011 results from South Africa will be available later this fall.

Unemployment Is South Africans' Top Concern

Gallup results show that South Africa's unemployment rate at more than 20% was the highest Gallup measured across more than 100 countries in 2010. The country lost about 1 million jobs between 2008 and 2009, or about 8% of the national workforce. The South African economy contracted in 2009, while household indebtedness grew. In contrast, in neighboring Zimbabwe, economic growth has been strong after the government shifted to dollarization (use of hard currencies) to battle hyperinflation in 2009. While Zimbabwean leaders still have work to do on the country's economy, the dollarization of the economy has improved the lives of Zimbabweans.

In light of the sheer size of the job cuts, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that a lack of jobs is what South Africans say is the most important concern their families face. But what may be surprising is that even those who rate their lives higher on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, say this. Those who rate their present lives at the bottom of the scale are far more likely than others to identify poverty or a lack of money another pressing problem. South Africans, irrespective of their life evaluation ratings, express similar levels of concern about overall inflation, increases in food prices, and dearth of basics such as food and water.

Bottom Line

South Africans' change in evaluative wellbeing suggests they collectively felt the pinch of the 2008 to 2009 recession. In fact, the change in self-ratings of their present lives brought their mean score to the level of Zimbabweans' in 2010. Further, the results reveal that regardless of how South Africans rated their lives last year, all groups perceived unemployment to be the most important issue their families faced.

South Africans' consumer confidence, according to the MasterCard Worldwide Index of Consumer Confidence latest release, has improved recently, especially on the dimension of employment expectations. Such increased optimism about the job situation perhaps underscores South Africans' prioritization of job creation in the country. It will be important to continue monitoring how South Africans rate their lives as results become available, especially in comparison with the positive momentum seen in Zimbabwe.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted Sept. 11-Oct. 3, 2010, in South Africa. For results based on the total sample of national adults in South Africa, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.8 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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