David Hedengren
Last updated: 17 January, 2013

Huge gaps in “happiness” between Middle East countries

There is a wide span in peoples’ satisfaction with their lives in the MENA region, finds Your Middle East’s Editor in Chief.

How do you measure the happiness of an entire country? One way is to ask people questions about how satisfied they are with their lives and how they felt the previous day. Gallup did just that in their global wellbeing survey from 2010, where a median of only 20% in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region were considered ”thriving.”

According to Gallup, Israel has the happiest population in MENA – nearly two in three (63%) are thriving in the Jewish state – followed by the United Arab Emirates (55%) and Qatar (53%). In Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, and Morocco, only one in seven or fewer were happy with their lives at the time of the study, which makes sense given what happened shortly after it was conducted (the Arab Spring, remember…).

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A more recent survey, the Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index, published in October 2012, looks at how people in 142 countries (96% of the world population) are doing by studying a broader range of indicators related to Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Governance, Personal Freedom, Health, and Social Capital. According to themselves, the Prosperity Index is “the only global measurement of national success based on both income and wellbeing”.

So how do the results differ from the Gallup study that focused on the “mood” of the population without including economic factors? Some countries differed significantly, like Morocco – which we find in the bottom of Gallup’s ranking but in the middle of the Prosperity Index. But in most cases the placement of a country was pretty consistent in the two studies. Israel, UAE and Kuwait are top performers in both, while Iraq, Yemen and Egypt linger at the bottom (Qatar and Syria were not included in the Prosperity Index).

It is often argued that income is relatively insignificant compared to for example family situation, unemployment, or health when it comes to how satisfied people are with their lives.

“’Wellbeing’ is based on much more than how rich a country or person is…Our research has shown that only by meeting first order needs, such as law and order and food and shelter, and then higher order needs, such as good jobs, can maximize societies’ brain gain and GDP growth,” writes Lymari Morales, Managing News Editor of Gallup.com in a comment.

But in the Middle East, there seems to be a connection between a country’s economic success and the happiness of its people, most likely because the countries in the region that are prosperous in financial terms have also managed to build societies with relatively strong governance.

Looking at the Prosperity Index in more detail, the effects of the Arab Spring have had a significant impact on MENA countries. There have been sharp declines in the Social Capital Indicator, which measures social cohesion and community networks, with Tunisia deteriorating the most – 32 places down to 122nd of 142 countries – and Syria falling 30 places to the 131st position since 2010. Although the country has not experienced any uprising, Saudi Arabia dropped 21 places in this category.

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“In the Middle East and North Africa, we are beginning to feel the impact of the Arab Spring, as social cohesion and the number of citizens who believe they can rely on friends and family for help has fallen,” said Jeffrey Gedmin, President and CEO of the Legatum Institute, in a comment.

But he also pointed out that there are bright spots as the key measurement of Entrepreneurship & Opportunity has improved.

“As the region adjusts to change, it is important to keep in mind the two factors that the Prosperity Index finds are most closely linked to a country’s long term prosperity: Entrepreneurship & Opportunity and effective, accountable government. All policies should link back to these proven drivers of prosperity.”

According to this view, a significant deal of responsibility lies on policy makers and government officials throughout the Middle East in terms of producing a more prosperous and happier region.

MENA countries’ ranking in the 2012 Prosperity Index (142 countries in total):

29. UAE
38. Kuwait
40. Israel
52. Saudi
73. Morocco
77. Jordan
78. Tunisia
85. Lebanon
89. Turkey
100. Algeria
102. Iran
106. Egypt
113. Syria
131. Iraq
134. Yemen

MENA countries’ individual ranking in Gallup’s 2012 wellbeing survey (share of the population that is “thriving”):

Israel 63%
UAE 55%
Qatar 53%
Kuwait 46
Saudi 43%
Jordan 30%
Bahrain 27%
Lebanon 21%
Algeria 20%
Libya 14%
Palestinian Territories 14%
Tunisia 14%
Iraq 13%
Egypt 12%
Yemen 12%
Morocco 9%

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