Monday, October 27, 2014

Don’t worry, exercise, and be happy

It has become common knowledge that those who exercise regularly are healthier than those who do not, but are those who exercise also happier? According to research conducted by the University of Bristol, people who regularly exercise are happier, more productive at work, and less stressed than those who are not engaged in regular physical activities. Furthermore, extensive research has shown that physical exercise can combat depression and improve mood through neurogenesis and endorphin release during a workout. Using data from the 2013 CRRC Caucasus Barometer (CB) survey, this blog post looks at whether physically active people are happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who do not engage in regular physical activity. It also looks at which sex is more physically active in Georgia- men or women- and  whether residents of the capital, other urban settlements or rural areas are more likely to exercise.

Despite the benefits of physical exercise, the percentage of Georgians who exercise on a regular basis is low, as is the case in the US and the EU. According to CB, 16% of the Georgian population exercises on a regular basis for at least two hours per week, and men (22%) are twice as likely to engage in regular physical activity as women (10%).

Interestingly, 35% of those who exercise regularly for at least two hours per week consider themselves extremely happy and another 38%, happy. This is a slightly higher share compared with those who do not exercise. Only 5% of exercisers report being unhappy, while 15% of those who do not exercise report being unhappy.

 Note: A 10-point scale was used to record respondents’ answers to the question “Overall, how happy would you say you are?” For the chart above, the original scale was recoded to a 5-point scale, so that codes ‘1’ and ‘2’ were grouped into “Extremely unhappy”, codes ‘3’ and ‘4’ into category ‘2’, codes ‘5’ and ‘6’ into category ‘3’, codes ‘7’ and ‘8’ into category ‘4,’ and codes ‘9’ and ‘10’ into “Extremely happy.” Options “Do not know” and “Refuse to answer” were excluded from the analyses. 

Furthermore, people who are physically active appear to be slightly more satisfied with their lives than those who do not exercise. According to the graph below, out of those who exercise, 40% say they are satisfied with their lives, while this number decreases to 33% among Georgians who do not exercise on a regular basis. The difference is more distinct for those who report not being satisfied with their lives: 18% of those who exercise report not being satisfied compared with 31% of those who do not exercise.

 Note: A 10-point scale was used to record respondents’ answers to the question “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?” For the chart above, the original scale was recoded to a 5-point scale, so that codes ‘1’ and ‘2’ were grouped into “Not satisfied at all”, codes ‘3’ and ‘4’ into category ‘2’, codes ‘5’ and ‘6’ into category ‘3’, codes ‘7’ and ‘8’ into category ‘4,’ and codes ‘9’ and ‘10’ into “Completely satisfied”. Options “Do not know” and “Refuse to answer” were excluded from the analyses. 

According to the data, residents of the capital and other urban settlements are more physically active than those living in rural settlements; 22% of people living in Tbilisi and 20% of people living in other urban settlements exercise on a regular basis, while only 9% of the rural population reports exercising on a regular basis.

To summarize, the percentage of Georgians who engage in regular physical exercise is not much different from the populations of the US or EU countries. It appears that the level of happiness and life satisfaction are higher among Georgians who work out regularly. If you would like to explore issues related to physical activity and the level of happiness and life satisfaction in the South Caucasus further, please visit the CRRC website or look at the data using our Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Do Armenians Still View Integration with the EU as Part of a Positive-Sum Game?

On September 3rd 2013 Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan surprised many observers, including some in his own government, when he announced that Armenia would sign an agreement with Russia to join the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) and spurn a long-negotiated Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union. The move has been dubbed a “U-Turn” as well as a “sudden shift in policy,” although it was predated by landmark Armenian-Russian agreements in 1997 and 2006. Following Sargsyan’s announcement Armenia has continued to pursue simultaneous mutually-beneficial bilateral relationships with both Russia and the EU, a foreign policy orientation commonly called “complementarity.” This balancing act has popular backing, although recent survey data shows that public attitudes have become less favorable toward the EU, especially since 2011. This blog post analyzes data concerning trends in public attitudes toward the EU and Russia as well as academic scholarship on the association and customs agreements, presenting preoccupation with national security on the part of political leadership as well as public opposition to so-called “European values” as possible explanations.

CRRC Caucasus Barometer (CB) data has shown that the Armenian public expresses overlapping support for closer ties with both Russia and the EU. The 2013 CB found that while 55% of people “rather support” or “fully support” Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Community (EurasEC), 40% also “rather support” or “fully support” membership in the European Union. And among those who “fully support” membership in the EurasEC, 60% also “fully support” membership in the EU.

Even following President Sargsyan’s agreement to join the ECU, a large section of the public believes that Armenia can maintain positive relations with both Russia and the EU. In June 2014, the Civilitas Foundation conducted a nationwide telephone survey of Armenian adults which found that 51% of the population believes that “Armenia should deepen relations both with Europe and Russia,” compared to 34% answering that Armenia should deepen relations with Russia only and only 4% responding that Armenia should deepen relations with the EU only.

While support for complementarity remains high, the CB indicates that positive attitudes toward the EU have declined, especially during the two years prior to announcement of the customs agreement. Whereas in 2011 62% of Armenians indicated “Support” for the country’s membership in the EU, in 2013 only 41% did so (for the data presented in this blog post, the values have been re-coded from a five-point scale used in the questionnaire to a three-point scale. Values “Rather support” and “Fully support” have been combined to “Support,” values “Rather don’t support” and “Don’t support at all” have been combined to “Don’t support”).  Over the same span the proportion choosing “Don’t Support” nearly tripled from 8% to 23%. In addition, each year respondents are asked to “assess their level of trust toward the European Union” (values measuring trust were also re-coded from a five-point scale used in the questionnaire to a three-point scale, so that “Fully Trust” and “Somewhat Trust” have been combined to “Trust” and “Fully Distrust” and “Somewhat Distrust” have been combined to “Distrust").  In 2011 37% indicated that they “Trust” the EU, while that figure fell to 27% by 2013. The share of those answering that they “Distrust” the EU increased from 17% to 28% over the same period.

These findings beg the question: why has public support for the EU among Armenians shown a tendency to decrease in recent years? One explanation is that public officials have prioritized the country’s deepening relationship with Russia while refraining from extensive public discourse concerning the EU. According to Delcour (2014) “Russia is widely seen as the security guarantor by the general Armenian public, whereas there is little knowledge of the European Union…Negotiations with the EU were conducted with small groups of experts, with hardly any explanations of their consequences and benefits to the population.”

The security component of the strategic partnership with Russia means that it tends to receive more attention, with Kempe (2013) expressing the view that “while the EU can be seen as an important partner for modernization and soft security, Russia still matters much more for Armenia as far as hard security is concerned.” While official foreign policy and public opinion are not always congruent, scholars such as Gabel and Scheve (2007) assert that government plays an important role in shaping popular attitudes. In Armenia the state has the potential to affect public opinion through influence over the media; in 2013 Freedom House declared that “most of the dominant media are controlled by government or government-friendly individuals.” This suggests that public support for the EU has declined not because of negative treatment in the public discourse but because of a lack of discussion in general.

A second possible explanation for eroding support is the indication that a growing segment of the population is uncomfortable with the purported spread of “European values” in Armenia. Historically close ties with Russia have emboldened pro-Russian voices in the country who oppose the AA primarily for cultural reasons. When the Civilitas poll asked Armenians to pinpoint the “greatest disadvantage of Armenia’s deeper integration with the European Union,” 18% indicated “loss of national identity.” While that number is not high in absolute terms, it appears more significant when contrasted with the fact that only 2% responded “loss of national identity” when asked the same question concerning deeper integration with the ECU. Armenian cultural conservatives tend to prefer closer ties with Russia and the ECU, not seeing danger in Russian cultural influence.

Despite the pro-Russian stance of most cultural conservatives, public opinion surveys confirm the preference for complementarity among a large segment of the Armenian public, even after the announcement of the customs agreement with Russia. However, trust and support for Armenia’s integration with the EU have slightly declined in recent years. This may be due to a relative lack of information about the EU on the part of citizens, as the government tends to prioritize the country’s strategic partnership with Russia while failing to adequately inform the public about the EU. Moreover, a growing segment of Armenians distrust the EU most likely out of the perception that deeper integration with it poses a threat to “national identity,” which in contrast is seen as a non-issue in Armenian-Russian relations. 

To gain more information on public opinion in Armenia, take a look at the CRRC’s online data analysis tool. For deeper insights on the Eurasian Customs Union useful analysis is provided by the Eurasian Economic Commission as well as the European Union Institute for Security Studies.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Active and Employed

Does having more free time mean that you can do more? According to the 2013 CRRC Caucasus Barometer (CB) survey, the answer is not that simple. Being unemployed may mean that you have more time at your disposal, but it may also mean that you have fewer opportunities to get involved and resources to use for various activities than those who work. This blog looks at activities people get involved in and describes the differences between those who have a job and those who do not.

According to data from CB 2013, 40% of Georgians are either employees (25%) or self-employed (14%). In this survey, those who do not have a job are grouped into the following categories: unemployed (25%), retired (17%), housewives (12%), students (4%) or disabled (2%). One can reasonably expect that people who work are more likely to have less time to participate in different kinds of activities compared to the unemployed. However, CRRC Caucasus Barometer data demonstrates that people who work tend to get involved in different kinds of activities more frequently than those who do not work.

Working people are more likely than the unemployed to participate in activities which involve socializing, meeting new people and helping others. Twenty five percent of those who have a job said that they have volunteered without compensation and 23% have attended a public meeting during the last six months, while only 17% and 13%, respectively, of the unemployed did the same. Also, when asked whether they have done any unpaid or paid work for their family’s business for at least one hour within the past week, more of those who work answered positively compared to the unemployed.

Note: The graph above only gives the percentage of “Yes” responses. It does not give percentages of “No”, “Don’t Know” and “Refuse to Answer”. The chart gives only the answers of respondents who have a job or are unemployed. Housewives, students, retired people, the disabled and others are excluded.

Moreover, when it comes to political participation, working people report higher rates of involvement. Around 90% of both those who have a job and those who do not say they would participate in presidential elections if they were held next Sunday, but when it comes to reality, 90% of working people reported voting in the 2012 parliamentary elections compared to 81% of the unemployed.  Here, it is important to note that according to the Central Election Commission of Georgia, the turnout in this election was only 59.75%. The number of respondents who report that they have or will vote is usually higher than the actual turnout. There are many reasons for this discrepancy; however, this blog does not seek to analyze these reasons.

Those with jobs and without are similar in their frequency of using the internet but differ from each other in respect to their behavior while browsing the internet. As CB 2013 shows, 36% of those who work and 31% of the unemployed say they use the internet every day. The most frequent activities when browsing the internet are similar in both groups, but the frequencies are different between groups. Most of the time, people use the internet to visit social networking sites or to search for information, though those who have a job are less likely to use the internet for social networking sites and are more likely to search for information. They are also more likely to send and receive email, which may be related to their work. 

Note: The graph above only gives the frequency of respondents mentioning these activities. Respondents were asked to list up to three activities and then read from a list of online activities. The chart gives only the answers of respondents who have a job or are unemployed. Housewives, students, retired people, the disabled and others are excluded.

When considering the above-mentioned differences, it is important to note that there are no significant differences in the demographic characteristics of those who work and who are unemployed. They are evenly distributed geographically and by gender. As for the age composition of the two groups, the share of people aged 18 to 35 is higher in the unemployed group (45% compared to 35%). While financial factors are important, alone, they do not explain the differences described in terms of social engagement, especially as activities such as volunteering, attending public meetings and voting do not require significant expenditures.

Thus, people who work are more involved in other social activities than those who do not work. In addition to financial factors, social factors may also be behind these differences. Maybe those who have a job have more opportunities to engage in activities, because they have more connections as they are part of a specific social network due to their work. On the contrary, maybe they have a job, because they already had more social ties before they got a job, and thus are and were actively involved in many different activities. We cannot say for sure, but finding out the answer might be very important as, according to Caucasus Barometer 2013, there are a fair number of unemployed people (25%) in Georgia who may have free time that can be used to serve some good.

In your opinion, why are the unemployed less involved in the social activities discussed in this blog? What is the reason for unemployed people not participating in many social activities? Is it only related to economic factors or are there other factors that could explain these findings?

Share your ideas on the CRRC’s Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Wave of the Future: Optimism, Pessimism and Fatalism in Georgia

A recent CRRC regional blog post analyzed the presence of fatalism in Georgia. The post cited CRRC Caucasus Barometer (CB) data which shows that in 2013, 28% of Georgians agreed that “everything in life is determined by fate.” While the CB findings demonstrate that a sizeable portion of the adult population is fatalistic about the future, Georgians are increasingly likely to see that future in a positive light, whether it be determined by fate or not. This blog post analyzes survey data and finds a recent trend of Georgians describing both their present economic situation and expected future situation in more positive terms than in previous years. However, survey results also illuminate dissonance in Georgian society, as urban residents and the younger population are more likely to look to the future with optimism than are rural dwellers and older Georgians. Notably, members of the latter groups are more likely to hold fatalistic attitudes.

CB longitudinal data demonstrates that over time Georgians have become more likely to describe their current household standing in positive terms. The survey asks: “Let’s imagine there is a 10-step ladder reflecting the economic standing of all households in Georgia today…On which rung of this ladder do you think your household currently stands?” For the purpose of this blog post values were re-coded from a ten-point scale to a three-point scale, with rungs 1-4 designated as the “low” position, 5-6 designated as the “intermediate” position, and 7-10 designated as the “high” position. In 2009 CB results showed that 64% of Georgians described their household being in the “low” economic position in society. That proportion remains high but has steadily declined since, and by 2013 only 45% of citizens described their household position in the same terms. It should be noted that the largest decline in negative responses occurred from 2009 to 2010. One plausible explanation is that GDP recovered rapidly over the same period, with the World Bank reporting that Georgia’s GDP contracted by 3.8% in 2009 before growing by 6.3% in 2010. As for the “high” position, 11% of Georgians placed themselves there in 2013, compared with only 4% in 2009. It appears that most of the difference on the time series is accounted for by people changing their perception from “low” to “intermediate.”

Not only do Georgians feel better about their current standing, they are looking forward to a brighter future. In recent years the vast majority of adults in the country have seen the future of their households in uncertain terms at best, indicating “Don’t Know” or “Refuse to Answer” on the survey, and pessimistic terms at worst. Those attitudes haven’t disappeared, but public sentiment is becoming more sanguine. After describing their current position, respondents are asked “On which rung of this ladder do you think your household will be standing 5 years from now?” The percentage of Georgians expecting their household to be in the “high” position increased over a span of four years, showing an overall rise from 16% in 2009 to 29% in 2013. By contrast, the percentage of those indicating the “low” position was stagnant.

What is most telling about these numbers is that the proportion of pessimists did not rise, given that the proportion of “Don’t Know” and “Refuse to Answer” responses declined from 2009 to 2013, from 60% to 49% (after peaking at 65% in 2011).  This figure remains relatively high, however. At the same time the share of people indicating “high” and “intermediate” positions increased. Taken in aggregate, these numbers suggest that Georgians are more certain about their futures than they were four years ago, and increased certainty has apparently translated into higher expectations.

The data indicates, however, that residents of urban areas are much more likely to view the future with optimism than rural residents. Of those expecting their household to be in the “high” position in five years, 67% percent lived in urban areas (including Tbilisi). Of those expecting to be on the “low” position, 62% lived in rural areas. Thus we observe an association between urbanization and optimistic economic expectations. There is also a discord between age groups. Those aged 18-35 are the most likely to expect to be in the “high” position, while those aged 36-55 and 56+ are less likely to have that expectation and are increasingly likely to give DK/RA responses. According to the CB 35% of Georgia’s young adults indicated “high” compared to 27% of the middle-aged population and 23% of the elderly. It should also be noted that the under-36 age group constituted a larger proportion of the population in Tbilisi than in other urban (non-Tbilisi) or rural areas (42% of Tbilisi’s adult population is under 36, compared to 36% of the population in other urban areas and 31% of the rural population), so it is unclear whether age group or settlement type is a better indicator of optimism.

The presence of fatalistic attitudes offers a possible explanation for these cleavages. Those residing in Tbilisi are more likely to be optimistic about the future and much less likely to agree that “everything in life is determined by fate,” with the CB 2013 finding that 18% of Tbilisi residents agreed with the statement compared to 29% of urban Georgians (excluding Tbilisi) and 32% of rural inhabitants. However, it must be noted that non-Tbilisi urbanites were more likely than residents of Tbilisi to indicate both expectation of the high economic position and having fatalistic attitudes. As for the age divide, only 23% of those aged 18-35 indicated fatalistic attitudes, compared to 26% of the 36-55 age group and 34% of those 56 and over. Comparing age groups, we observe a negative association between optimism for the future and fatalism.

This statistical analysis indicates that Georgians have demonstrated increasingly optimistic attitudes over the past four years. While that is good news, exuberance should be tempered by the fact that high expectations are largely concentrated in the urban population and those under the age of 35. The lack of optimism amongst the rural and 36+ populations also appears to be associated with the presence of fatalistic attitudes in Georgia. Georgian society is becoming more optimistic on the whole, but growing optimism is not spread evenly amongst the population.

For additional information concerning public opinion in Georgia take a look at our data using the CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.