WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Except for a clear dip in 2009 after the global economic meltdown in 2008, Gallup wellbeing studies show that, on average, about one in four adults worldwide have consistently rated their lives well enough to be considered "thriving." The percentage of adults considered "suffering" on the other hand, has increased and stayed relatively high. The trend in the difference between the two -- "net wellbeing" -- suggests global wellbeing has yet to fully rebound from the economic crisis.
Gallup classifies respondents as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Those who rate their present life a 7 or higher and their live in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving, while those who rate both dimensions a 4 or lower are considered suffering. Respondents whose ratings fall in between are considered struggling.
Many factors likely contributed to the drop in net wellbeing, but the global economic crisis that began in 2008 is a prime suspect. Other major regional events, including the Arab Spring and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflicts may have also affected people's evaluations of their lives.
Suffering Most Likely to Be Poor, Vulnerable
Thriving worldwide rebounded relatively quickly after the economic crisis, while high suffering persisted, suggesting that effects of the global crisis likely have been more lasting for those who were most vulnerable financially when it hit. That it has been tougher for some to recover economically and psychologically makes sense given that thriving and suffering are highly related to household income. People with the lowest household incomes -- the lowest 40%, who live on $2 a day or less per person -- are more likely to be suffering than thriving. The reverse is true for those in the top 10% of household incomes, where more than half (55%) are thriving.
Wellbeing Deficit in Middle East and North Africa
Across regions, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Europe, and the U.S. and Canada saw the most negative effects on net wellbeing between 2006 and 2011. In MENA, declining thriving and rising suffering created a wellbeing deficit in the region in 2011. An average of 19% of residents in MENA were suffering last year, surpassing the 17% who were thriving, resulting in a net wellbeing score of -2.
Net wellbeing in the U.S. and Canada and Europe did not change as drastically as in MENA, but declines in each region illustrate that these regions have not yet recovered from the global economic crisis and reflect their ongoing economic troubles.
Wellbeing More Positive in Latin America and Caribbean
Net wellbeing in Latin America and the Caribbean actually increased after the crisis hit in 2008, likely reflecting how strong fiscal reform in countries such as Brazil helped their populations weather the economic storm. Thriving increased in Latin America and the Caribbean after 2008, hovering near 50% since, and suffering remains in the low single digits. In fact, thriving worldwide was able to return to pre-2008 levels primarily because of the increase in thriving in this region.
In sub-Saharan Africa, net wellbeing has been relatively low and relatively constant, only emerging from negative territory for the first time in 2011 as suffering in the region declined. Wellbeing was somewhat more fluid in Asia, where more people have been suffering than thriving since 2009. Thriving in Asia has remained relatively flat, whereas suffering percentages have increased substantially since 2008 and stayed high.
Gallup's studies of wellbeing since 2006 show the global economic crisis that began in 2008 and other subsequent major events have left their mark on worldwide wellbeing. Although thriving has returned to pre-2009 levels, suffering remains elevated. This suggests that although economic recovery is underway in many parts of the world, many of those who are suffering may not be feeling it.
For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact SocialandEconomicAnalysis@gallup.com or call 202.715.3030.
Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each country in each of the regions mentioned in this article, aged 15 and older, conducted between 2006 and 2011. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±0.4 percentage points to a high of ±3.8 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. 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.