Digging into the data: Ukraine’s pursuit of happiness

Digging into the data: Ukraine’s pursuit of happiness

Ukraine isn’t the happiest place in the world right now, and according to some stats that’ve come out recently it might actually be one of the unhappiest.

Take a look at data released last month in the World Happiness Report 2016, a project that ranks countries by their happiness levels using data from the Gallup World Poll, which 1,000 Ukrainians take part in every year.

The main measure of happiness they use is a zero to 10 scale called the Cantril Ladder, which to get all psychometricky is “a measurement of subjective well-being”:

“Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”

The World Happiness Report then takes an average of these rankings for each country and ranks each country by that average score.

Back in 2007 and 2008, Ukraine didn’t rank too badly, as you can see below in the first chart I’ve done up – about half of countries scored lower than Ukraine, including several other European countries.

But in 2013, almost three-quarters of all countries surveyed had higher happiness scores than Ukraine, though Ukraine’s was still higher than Bulgaria, Georgia and Armenia.

By 2014, around 80 per cent of countries had higher scores than Ukraine and by 2015, Ukraine ranked in 120th place out of 136 countries – the lowest of any European country.

graph11

The World Happiness Report also looks at a few other measures, including the freedom to make life choices. To calculate this measure, they take a national average of responses to the question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?”

This figure’s never been too high in Ukraine to begin with; only in 2011 did Ukraine come close to breaking out of the bottom fifth of countries on this measure.

But it’s the decline from 2013 to 2015 that’s the most jarring, as you can see in the graph below (I’ve cut the y-axis to the 50th percentile to make it more obvious). In 2015, Ukrainians ranked second last out of all countries on this measure, behind only Haiti.

graph22

I also took a look at the corruption measure, but I’m not sure the way they calculate the corruption measure is that well-suited for Ukraine. The measure the World Happiness Survey uses is the national average of survey responses to two questions: “Is corruption widespread throughout the government or not?” and “Is corruption widespread within businesses or not?” Splitting the question into a ‘government’ corruption question and a ‘business’ corruption question seems weird to me – aren’t they kind of one and the same thing? – but it’s the only data I’ve got, it’s still worth looking at and, plus, I’m no perceptions-of-corruption expert.

When it comes to corruption, these stats aren’t at all shocking. Ukrainians perceive far more corruption in their own country than people in most other countries, and this perception’s only got worse in the past few years – only Bosnians/Herzegovinians and Romanians felt corruption was worse in their own countries.

There’s other data from the Gallup World Poll 2015, released in January, that paints an even unhappier picture of Ukraine:

  • The percentage of Ukrainians who reported being satisfied with their standard of living dropped from 27% to 17% in 2015
  • 6% of Ukrainians are “suffering” – the highest among all post-Soviet states Gallup surveyed
  • 56% of Ukrainians feel they’re “struggling”
  • Only 9% of Ukrainians feel they’re “thriving”

On top of that, last year I ran some data from the 2012 version of the European Social Survey (for which, despite the name, was done in July 2013 in Ukraine), and found some more unhappy stats.

Aside from being some of the most likely people to feel depressed over the past week (only Hungarians and Albanians were more depressed), Ukrainians also were more likely than anyone from the other 28 countries surveyed to have:

  • Felt anxious in the past week (29% compared to 11% on average)
  • Felt sad in the past week (23% compared to 9% on average)
  • Felt lonely in the past week (21% compared to 8% on average).

None of these stats should be a revelation to anyone even minimally aware of goings-on in Ukraine over the past few years, and they raise more questions than answers.

For one, why are Ukrainians so unhappy? Well, yes, obvious answer is obvious (something like “uh, you know, everything? Like, do you know anything, Michael?”) but I mean more in the sense of whether there’s one or two things that Ukrainians really hit on when they talk about being unhappy. The war? Corruption? The economy? Or is it a not-easily-quantifiable combination of factors, the aforementioned ‘everything’?

What does this unhappiness mean for Ukraine’s already-stretched health and social systems? Does this unhappiness mean we’ll see an increase in mental health issues (e.g., PTSD, depression, even suicide) in Ukraine? Have we already?

What are the implications of all this ballooning unhappiness for Ukraine’s political leaders as they continue to pretend to fight corruption and reduce the power of the oligarchs? Does all this unhappiness mean that Ukrainians will sit back, or will it make them angry enough to make yet another stand?

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