Living day-to-day: How are fatalism and economic prosperity interrelated in Georgia?

Authors Rahmato and Kidanu (1999) use the phrase “We live only for today” to describe a feeling whereby a person gives up on life and does not know or does not want to think about what will happen the next day. This phrase describes a state wherein people live day-to-day without hope for the future. This sense of helplessness or hopelessness with regard to the future is known as fatalism. According to Oxford dictionary, fatalism is a “belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable.” What can the study of fatalism tell us?  Research by Straughan & Seow (1998), Stephen & Shapiro (2010), and Ruiu (2014), has revealed that fatalism can play a large role in determining a wide range of behaviors such as financial savings decisions, occupational choices, health behaviors, and even natural disaster preparedness. This blog analyzes fatalistic beliefs in Georgia, and explores associations between fatalism, economic status and education.

The CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer 2013 data shows that just over a quarter of Georgians (28%) express fatalistic views by agreeing with the statement that, “Everything in life is determined by fate”. 39% hold the opposite view and 29% are neutral..

Note: This question was re-coded from a 10-point scale to a 3-point scale. The options 1, 2, 3, 4 were grouped into “Everything in life is determined by fate”. Options 5 and 6 were grouped into “Neutral”, and options 7, 8, 9 and 10 were grouped into “People shape their fate themselves”.

What are some potential consequences of being fatalistic? From an economic perspective, as Bernard, Dercon, and Taffesse (2012) claim in their paper, fatalism is equivalent to not making necessary “investments” to improve one’s well-being. Thus, a fatalistic person might refrain from making investments that would improve their well-being, because they believe such investments might not lead to significant changes. CB data shows that fatalism and a person’s economic situation are interrelated in Georgia; 35% of the population who describe their economic situation as “bad” also think that “Everything in life is determined by fate”. Only 19% of Georgians who describe their economic situation as “good” share the same belief.

Note: Original answer options, “Money is not enough for food” and “Money is enough for food only, but not for clothes” were grouped to create the “Bad” economic condition category. The option “Money is enough for food and clothes, but not enough for expensive durables like a refrigerator or washing machine” was renamed as “Middle” economic condition. Finally, the original answer options “Can afford to buy some expensive durables like a refrigerator or washing machine” and ”Can afford to buy anything they need” were grouped into the “Good” economic condition.

Bernard, Dercon and Taffesse describe this relationship between fatalism and a person’s economic situation as a vicious circle, whereby a person who believes they are unable to change their life might lack motivation to explore different paths towards a better life (and thus be unlikely to invest necessary resources in achieving a better life). As a consequence, a set of beliefs about the inability to make a positive change would be perpetuated.

What role does education play in this context? Education not only provides access to information, but also, according to Ruiu (2012), improves skills and can enable people to realize their abilities. According to Ruiu, education thus makes individuals less fatalistic, and based on his research, there is a strong negative association between fatalism and education. The CB also shows a negative association between education and fatalism in Georgia. 41% of Georgians who say they have achieved a primary education agree with the statement, “Everything in life is determined by fate”, whereas 22% of Georgians who have completed higher education share the same view.

Note: The following original answer options were grouped into “Primary”: no primary education, primary education, and incomplete secondary education. Secondary education and incomplete higher education were grouped into “Secondary”. Completed higher education and a post-graduate degree were grouped into “Higher”.To conclude, fatalistic views are associated to an individual’s economic situation and education level, but of course, correlation cannot confirm causation. On one hand, CB survey data shows that fatalistic views tend to decrease as education increases in Georgia. On the other hand, Georgians who share fatalistic views are more likely to describe their economic situation as bad, compared to those who believe that people shape their fate themselves.

By: Tamuna Chkaidze