Les Misérables: An analysis of low SWB across the world


Global trends indicate that the prevalence of low subjective wellbeing is on the rise, though not all regions are equal in terms of both absolute levels and their trajectories. In this paper, we explore the relative importance of individual- and country-level factors in predicting low SWB. Put differently, we ask if a person found themselves behind a veil of ignorance, should they want to know who they will be or what country they will live in to better understand their risk of having low wellbeing. To answer this question, we leverage data from the most extensive wellbeing survey in the world—the Gallup World Poll. We explore people’s likelihood of reporting low evaluative wellbeing (that their life is close to the worst possible life on the Cantril ladder) and low experiential wellbeing (reporting having felt angry, sad, stressed, and worried for most of the day yesterday). Using multilevel models on both measures, we show that individual factors have the greatest explanatory power across both measures, but that country level factors are almost four times more important in explaining the variation in low evaluative wellbeing than low experiential wellbeing around the world. We also present evidence that individual and country-level factors interact, suggesting that a complex system of people and places determines people’s likelihood of reporting low SWB.

Frontiers of Psychology
George Melios
George Melios

My research primarily focuses on the foundations of democracy how democratic institutions function, how citizens interact with them and how they can be improved.