The planet is a happier place these days, at least in many parts of the world where incomes are low and life is tough … but economies are improving. In particular, as economic growth has surged in much of Latin America, East Europe and Asia over the past five years, people are expressing greater satisfaction with their personal lives, family incomes and national conditions. The picture is considerably different in most advanced nations, where per capita GDP gains have been less robust and citizen satisfaction has changed little since 2002.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project’s 47-nation survey finds that measures of personal and economic satisfaction remain modest in the developing world when compared with measures for advanced nations, but this gap has narrowed. The increasing contentment in developing nations is clearly correlated with sizable increases in per capita gross domestic product that, in most cases, far outpaced the rate of growth prior to 2002.1
Publics in Latin America and Eastern Europe – where per capita GDP has risen markedly in recent years – rate their lives and national conditions far more favorably than they did in Pew’s 2002 wave of interviewing. The same is true in China and India, both of which have experienced sizable gains in real income, and where publics are substantially happier today. The pattern is less pronounced, however, elsewhere in Asia. And in sub-Saharan Africa, where per capita GDP has increased in many nations, overall satisfaction measures are up modestly, at best.
In contrast, levels of personal contentment and satisfaction with annual incomes have been much more stable in North America, Western Europe and Japan, where income growth has been less impressive. Also, unlike in the developing world, satisfaction with national conditions is flat or has declined in most advanced nations where trends are available.