Monday, November 09, 2015

Household income and consumption patterns in Georgia

After the collapse of the Georgian economy in the 1990s, the country slowly started to recover, and between 2000 and 2014, the gross national income grew from $3.4 billion to $16.7 billion (in current USD). According to the National Statistics Office of Georgia, the official unemployment rate in Georgia was 12.4% in 2014, but according to numerous surveys the rate is much higher. Compounding matters, the low salaries of the majority of those who are employed make it difficult for many families to make ends meet. According to World Bank statistics in 2012, 15% of Georgians still live below the national poverty line, which is slightly under $1.25 a day.

Classic micro-economic theory tells us that consumption depends on income levels, but also on the type of good. Normal goods, a good example of which in Georgia would be an Opel Astra if we are talking about cars, are consumed less when income falls. Inferior goods, on the other hand, are consumed when consumers do not have enough money to buy something better – with cars, one would choose a Zaporozhets instead of an Opel. Or, when a family’s budget is tight, they might buy no-name sports shoes rather than Nikes, or a standard mobile phone rather than a smart phone. Finally, demand for luxury goods (a Land Rover instead of an Opel) increases more than proportionately as incomes increase.

Recently, we saw that most people in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia cannot afford to buy certain durable goods. But, when income is scarce, it also obviously influences everyday choices, such as what to eat for dinner, when to turn on the heater, and whether to buy your child that chocolate bar she really wants.  

So how does the consumption of everyday goods differ by income level in Georgia? The chart below shows the percentage of households in Georgia which report restricting consumption of certain foods because of their limited income.

Note: The original scale measuring household income was recoded for this chart. GEL was converted into USD. The income groups “USD 401-800”, “USD 801-1200” and “More than USD 1200” were combined into “More than USD 400” and the groups “USD 0”, “Up to USD 50” and “USD 51-100” were combined into  “Up to USD 100”. Only “yes” answers are reported. Error bars indicate a 95% confidence interval.

As expected, the percentages of households limiting consumption differ by income group, with households in the highest income group limiting their consumption the least. Importantly, this trend is obvious in spite of the fact that we did not control for the size of households for this blog posts, i.e. did not take into account per capita income of the household members, or number of children or elderly in the households.

Even in the group with the highest household income, about one in four households limits consumption of beef – and reports doing so solely due to budgetary difficulties. In the $251-400 income group, between 8% (potatoes) and 54% (beef) of Georgians say they restrict consumption of certain goods. In households with an income between $101-250 these shares increase to 14% and 76%. In the poorest households, with less than $100 income per month, four out of five households report limiting consumption of beef and one out of five limits even the consumption of staple foods like potatoes.

In each income group, the highest percentage of households limits consumption of beef and sweets/chocolate, while the smallest percentage limits consumption of potatoes. Milk and vegetables are somewhere in between. In addition to the obvious explanation suggesting that higher shares of households limit consumption of beef and sweets/chocolate simply because these are relatively expensive, this trend might also be explained by what economist call income elasticity of demand. The concept is a measure of how sensitive consumption is to changes in income. Among food products, beef and sweets are probably seen more as luxury rather than absolute necessities, because of comparatively high prices and potential substitutes.

Hence, how Georgians limit their food consumption differs by both income group and type of food. Yet, looking at this issue only from the monetary income perspective does not take into account cases when, in rural settlements, families produce their food themselves.

Interested in this or a similar topic? Browse the Caucasus Barometer and other CRRC survey data here.

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