Imperial College London: New report highlights the impact of COVID-19 on life satisfaction worldwide

Global survey data on the wellbeing of individuals across 26 countries has revealed how coronavirus is impacting people’s satisfaction with life.

Among key findings are that in the West, countries hit hardest by COVID-19 are generally unhappier than those with lower death rates from the disease. Western countries reporting the lowest levels of life satisfaction include Italy, Spain, the US and the UK, which also have the highest COVID-19 death rates in this group.

Across all countries surveyed, people who have the most confidence in their health system’s ability to respond to COVID-19 have the highest life satisfaction, while those with no trust came out at the bottom.

The report, led by Imperial College’s London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation in partnership with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the World Happiness Report, also showed that young people are least satisfied with life. This contrasts sharply with pre-pandemic times, when life satisfaction followed a U-shape with age, with happiness higher for the young and old, and lowest in mid-life.

John F. Helliwell of the University of British Columbia, co-editor of the World Happiness Report, said: “The pandemic is affecting all aspects of life, making it especially valuable to have an overall umbrella measure of how life is going for those in different circumstances. The evidence on life satisfaction now available from this poll should aid the timely design of policies better able to rebuild the quality of life while keeping populations as safe as possible from the direct and indirect risks to life, livelihoods, health and happiness.”

The survey, launched by Imperial College London in partnership with YouGov, is collecting weekly insights from more than 20 countries, tracking how the public’s behaviours and attitudes in relation to COVID-19 are evolving over time. To measure wellbeing, respondents are asked to report how satisfied they currently are with life using the Cantril Ladder. This asks individuals to rate themselves on a scale of 0-10, with 0 representing the worst possible life and 10 being the best.

The report includes over 120,000 responses collected over 3 separate weeks, surveyed between Apr 27 and June 14.

Comparisons between genders found that overall, men and women are equally satisfied with life. However unemployed males report lower life satisfaction than unemployed females. And when looking at employment status alone, the unemployed had the lowest levels of wellbeing. In this survey, unemployment rates are especially high for women, helping to explain why women are now not happier on average than men, as has been the case in the past, the authors say. Higher unemployment also contributes to the observed lower average life satisfaction levels compared to other reports gathered pre-COVID-19, according to the authors.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, President of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and co-editor of the World Happiness Report said: “If we are to fully appreciate the growing global imprint that is being left in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it is vital that we look beyond more immediate measures on the health and wealth of nations and consider how the pandemic is impacting the wellbeing of populations. These data provide a valuable barometer reading of life under COVID-19, reflecting each country’s institutions and policies.”

The survey will continue over the coming months to monitor the influence of the COVID-19 crisis on wellbeing, alongside a range of other behaviours and attitudes, to understand how populations across the globe are responding to the pandemic.

Dr. David Nabarro, Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London and WHO Special Envoy for COVID-19, said: “Right now the people of many nations are facing severe and tightly interwoven challenges that traverse the realms of health, quality of life and livelihood resilience. We are honoured to be partnering with world-renowned thought leaders on happiness and sustainable development to help us build a more comprehensive understanding of how these are going to impact their wellbeing in multiple settings throughout our world.

“Through this work, we aim to ensure that due attention is given to the multiple consequences of COVID-19. We intend that our findings encourage Governments, institutions and businesses to unite in implementing urgent, timely and well-crafted actions that bring the greatest benefit to those who are most in need.”

Notes

* The 26 nations included in the survey are as follows: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, the UAE, UK, US and Vietnam.

Surveys are completed by nationally-representative sample sizes of approximately 1,000 individuals per survey per week (ranging from 500 to 2,000).

The data dashboard can be accessed at www.coviddatahub.com

The data are available on GitHub and can be accessed through this link.

Researchers, policy-makers and other collaborators can contact the research and policy team at Imperial College London using this link.

For questions about the survey, contact project co-leads, Sarah P. Jones ([email protected]) or Melanie Leis, director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation’s Big Data and Analytical Unit ([email protected]).


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