Nav: Home

Future changes in human well-being to depend more on social factors than economic factors

January 28, 2019

The changes in the perception of personal well-being that could take place in the next three decades, on a global level, depend much more on social factors than on economic ones. This is the result of a pioneering study developed by researchers from the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) and McGill University in Canada which, for the first time, uses a mathematical approach to project the subjective well-being of the world's population.

The study, recently published in Nature Communications, offers an alternative perspective to future projections based on readily-quantified material outcomes such as per capita income, and includes other dimensions of life that are critical but difficult to quantify due to subjectivity. The well-being measurement is the self-reported life evaluations from the Gallup World Poll, which in 2017 had a global average of 5.24 out of 10.

Researchers applied a dynamic statistical model that combines economic variables (material) such as GDP per capita and life expectancy, with social variables (non-material) such as freedom, corruption, generosity and social support. With these variables, they were able to reproduce the most important current differences between countries, and use the observed changes between 2005 and 2016 to calibrate the model. This model was then used to project scenarios for global changes in self-reported life evaluations in year 2050.

Results show that the expected range of future changes in material variables tend to lead to modest improvements of global average life evaluations, from no change to as much as a 10% increase above present day. In contrast, scenarios based on non-material variables show a very wide range of possible outcomes, from a 30% rise in future global average life evaluations (in the most optimistic scenario of societal improvement) to a 35% decrease (in the most pessimistic scenario of societal decline).

The greatest scope for non-material changes lies in the densely populated regions of India, China, Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, since there is plenty of room for improvement in social matters.

"The results highlight the critical role of non-material factors such as social supports, freedoms, and fairness in determining the future of human well-being", states ICTA-UAB researcher Eric Galbraith, who stresses that feasible changes in GDP are very unlikely to play an important role in changes of life self-evaluations within 30 years. "The observed changes from 2005 to 2016 show that non-material trends encompass more extreme positive and negative possibilities than the material trends", McGill researcher Chris Barrington-Leigh explains.

The authors warn that the greatest benefits to be made potentially over the next decades, as well as the most dangerous pitfalls to be avoided, lie in the domain of social fabric. "Long-run policies that are overly focussed on income have narrow effects", according to Barrington-Leigh. "If human well-being is the main goal of governments, their resources would be more wisely spent on policies chosen based on what really matters most for human experience."
-end-
Research article

Barrigton-Leigh C. & Galbraith E. (2019). Feasible future global scenarios for human life evaluations. Nature Communications, 10(1):161 available online at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-08002-2

Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

Related Life Articles:

Your sex life is only as old as you feel
The closer you feel to your actual age, the less likely you are to be satisfied with your sex life, a University of Waterloo study has found.
Interpersonal abuse in early life may lead to concentration issues later in life
Does a history of abuse before the age of 18 affect later capacity to concentrate and stay focused?
Life skills are important for wellbeing in later life
Life skills, such as persistence, conscientiousness and control, are as important to wealth and wellbeing in later life as they are when people are much younger, according to new research led by UCL.
During late life, what's important changes
Supportive late life care improves experience and cost, and model can be replicated.
Life begets life: The diversity of species on Earth is generating itself
If competition is the main evolutionary driver, why can so many species coexist within the same ecosystem instead to have a few that dominate?
New chemistry of life
A team of scientists under the lead of Ivan Dikic, Director of the Institute of Biochemistry II at Goethe University Frankfurt, has now discovered a novel mechanism of ubiquitination, by which Legionella bacteria can seize control over their host cells.
Life before oxygen
UC geologist uncovers 2.5 billion-year-old fossils of bacteria that predate the formation of oxygen.
The fruits of life
In a new international collaboration led by Professors Hong Ma and Jun Xiang, the authors performed a tour de force evolutionary study of Rosaceae fruits from the analyses of 125 flowering plants with large gene sequence datasets, including those of 117 Rosaceae species.
Quality of life in late life can be good
New LifeCourse research shows patients' quality of life can improve in the last months of life; caregivers need to understand how patients' goals change with illness, and health professionals can improve late life communications by understanding the whole person needs of caregivers.
UPCI-tested immunotherapy prolongs life, reduces side effects and improves quality of life
The immunotherapy nivolumab significantly increases survival and causes fewer adverse side-effects in patients with recurrent head and neck cancer, according to a randomized trial co-led by investigators at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, partners with UPMC CancerCenter.

Related Life Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".