Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Life satisfaction in Arab countries

1577
How do people in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia feel about their lives? Summarising analysis of data collected in nationally representative surveys, this column highlights three core messages about their reported health, happiness and views of the future.

In a nutshell

Personal experiences largely determine whether people continue to support the economic and political institutions that underpin their society.

In terms of satisfaction with their economic situation, only 15% of respondents in the region say that they are living comfortably on their present income.

More than two thirds of people in the region are generally optimistic about their future, with women slightly more optimistic than men.

Since the early days of the Arab Spring in 2010, many Middle Eastern countries have experienced a profound transformation of their economic and political institutions. How has this affected people’s lives and their social, economic and political preferences? Understanding this process is important as personal experiences largely determine whether people continue to support the economic and political institutions that underpin their society.

To monitor people’s perceptions and attitudes, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) publishes assessments for its countries of operation in the South-eastern Mediterranean region (SEMED): Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. (Lebanon became an EBRD country of operation in mid-2017 and is not part of the most recent assessment round.)

The most recent assessments are based on data from the 2011 and 2015 Gallup World Polls, nationally representative surveys that are conducted every year in over 120 countries. In each country, about 1,000 individuals are asked about a wide range of topics.

The data provide rich information on demographic characteristics (age, gender, educational attainment, marital status and religion) as well as labour market outcomes. The survey also includes sections on attitudes and values, public service delivery and inclusion, among others. Importantly, the Gallup data also make it possible to benchmark the SEMED region vis-à-vis some advanced market economies (France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK) as well as Emerging Europe (the ‘transition region’).

The ‘transition region’ comprises Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan); Central Europe and the Baltic states (Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovak Republic and Slovenia); Eastern Europe and the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine); Russia; South-eastern Europe (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia); and Turkey.

The country assessments reveal three core messages about attitudes in the SEMED region:

The ‘happiness gap’ remains substantial

Today, individuals living in the SEMED region report levels of life satisfaction lower than for those who live in the transition region and Western Europe (Figure 1). Egypt (25%) has the lowest share of respondents who are currently satisfied with their life. In sharp contrast, life satisfaction is higher in Jordan (43%) than in any other SEMED country.

There are also some notable differences with regard to demographic characteristics. For example, Figure 2 shows that women have considerably higher levels of life satisfaction in Jordan and Morocco. When it comes to satisfaction with the economic situation, only 15% of respondents in the SEMED region state that they are living comfortably on their present income. The corresponding proportions are 17% in the transition region and 36% in Western Europe.

People are optimistic about the future

On the bright side, people in the SEMED region are generally optimistic about their future (68% – Figure 3). This figure is higher than in the transition region (55%) and Western Europe (41%).

Moreover, women are slightly more optimistic than men in all SEMED countries (Figure 4). Additional analysis of the Gallup data shows that on average, older and poorer individuals tend to report lower levels of life satisfaction. These groups are also less optimistic about the future and this holds across the entire region.

A majority report that their physical health is good

In the SEMED region, 64% of respondents agree or strongly agree that their physical health is very good (Figure 5). This figure is higher than the averages for the transition region (52%) and Western Europe (57%).

Perhaps not surprisingly, across the entire region, younger and richer individuals are more likely to report being in good health than their counterparts in the lower and middle-income brackets. In addition, men report being somewhat healthier than women in the SEMED countries, except for Jordan (Figure 6).

Further reading

EBRD (2017) ‘Life in Transition: A Decade of Measuring Transition’.

Most read

Labour market effects of robots: evidence from Turkey

Evidence from developed countries on the impact of automation on labour markets suggests that there can be negative effects on manufacturing jobs, but also mechanisms for workers to move into the services sector. But this narrative may not apply in developing economies. This column reports new evidence from Turkey on the effects of robots on labour displacement and job reallocation.

Global value chains and domestic innovation: evidence from MENA firms

Global interlinkages play a significant role in enhancing innovation by firms in developing countries. In particular, as this column explains, participation in global value chains fosters a variety of innovation activities. Since some countries in the Middle East and North Africa display a downward trend on measures of global innovation, facilitating the GVC participation of firms in the region is a prospective channel for stimulating underperforming innovation.

Food insecurity in Tunisia during and after the Covid-19 pandemic

Labour market instability, rising unemployment rates and soaring food prices due to Covid-19 are among the reasons for severe food insecurity across the world. This grim picture is evident in Tunisia, where the government continues to provide financial and food aid to vulnerable households after the pandemic. But as this column explains, the inadequacy of some public policies is another important factors causing food insecurity.

Sustaining entrepreneurship: lessons from Iran

Does entrepreneurial activity naturally return to long-term average levels after big economic disturbances? This column presents new evidence from Iran on trends in entrepreneurship among various categories of firm size, sector and location – and suggests policies that could be effective in promoting entrepreneurial activities.

Intimate partner violence: the impact on women’s empowerment in Egypt

Although intimate partner violence is a well-documented and widely recognised problem, empirical research on its prevalence and impact is scarce in developing countries, including those in the Middle East and North Africa. This column reports evidence from a study of intra-household disparities in Egypt, taking account of attitudes toward gender roles, women’s ownership of assets, and the domestic violence that wives may experience from their husbands.

Manufacturing firms in Egypt: trade participation and outcomes for workers

International trade can play a large and positive role in boosting economic growth, reducing poverty and making progress towards gender equality. These effects result in part from the extent to which trade is associated with favourable labour market outcomes. This column presents evidence of the effects of Egyptian manufacturing firms’ participation in exporting and importing on their workers’ productivity and average wages, and on women’s employment share.

Do capital inflows cause industrialisation or de-industrialisation?

There is a clear appeal for emerging and developing economies, including those in MENA, to finance investment in manufacturing industry at home with capital inflows from overseas. But as the evidence reported in this column indicates, this is a potentially risky strategy: rather than promoting industrialisation, capital flows can actually lead to lower manufacturing value added and/or a reallocation of resources towards industries with lower technology intensity.

Financial constraints on small firms’ growth: pandemic lessons from Iran

How does access to finance affect the growth of small businesses? This column presents new evidence from Iran before and during the Covid-19 pandemic – and lessons learned by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

The economics of Israeli war aims and strategies

Israel’s response to last October’s Hamas attack has led to widespread death and destruction. This column outlines the impact thus far, including the effects on food scarcity, migration and the Palestinian economy in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Happiness in the Arab world: should we be concerned?

Several Arab countries have low rankings in the latest comparative assessment of average happiness across the world. But as this column explains, the average is not a reliable summary statistic when applied to ordinal data. The evidence from more robust analysis of socio-economic inequality in happiness suggests that policy-makers should be less concerned about happiness indicators than the core development objective of more equitable social conditions for citizens.