Subjective Well-Being in South Caucasus

How do people in the South Caucasus assess their well-being? What specific factors influence subjective well-being (i.e. self-rating of well-being) in these countries? How similar are these factors across the three countries, and are there significant differences with other transitional societies?

Elvin Afandi (2007 Fellow, CRRC-Azerbaijan), examined these issues using data from CRRC’s Data Initiative survey for the year 2006. DI’s “How would you describe the current economic condition of your household?” question allowed assessing subjective well-being of respondents who had to choose from “very poor”, “poor”, “fair”, “good” and “very good”.

Overall in the region, responses were distributed almost equally between poor/very poor (47% of respondents) and fair (48% of respondents). Cross-country comparison, however, revealed that subjective well-being in Armenia was more positive with more respondents identifying their economic conditions as fair, good and very good and less people identifying their economic conditions as poor and very poor than in other countries of the region.

Elvin’s study suggests that impact of consumption poverty, unemployment, and inefficiency of social protection system on subjective well-being is much stronger in South Caucasus than in other middle-income transitional countries such as Ukraine or Russia. This is explained by economic recession in South Caucasus being more prolonged and more dramatic than in other middle-income transitional countries.

Some correlations are similar across the region. For example, being divorced, separated, widowed, being unemployed, and working in agriculture correlates with low rate of subjective well-being. Elvin Afandi suggests paying special attention to the fact that low subjective well-being is strongly associated with having negative perception of the past and future welfare. This may imply low upward mobility and chronic poverty.

Some variables, however, are more significant in some countries than in others. For example, being migrant in Armenia and Georgia has more impact on subjective well-being than in Azerbaijan. Interestingly, the study finds no effect of ethnicity on subjective well-being. It means that low subjective well-being is related not to ethnicity but rather to the fact that person migrated from another place.

Living in urban and rural places is more significantly correlated with subjective well-being in Azerbaijan and Georgia than in Armenia. It might mean that more dramatic urban-rural gap exists in these countries compared to Armenia.

Interest in politics positively correlates with the increase in subjective well-being. Correlation between withdrawal from discussing politics and low subjective well-being is significant in Azerbaijan and not significant either in Georgia or in Armenia. This might suggest higher risks of social exclusion of the poor in Azerbaijan.

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