Monday, July 25, 2016

Civic engagement in Georgia

Participation in various forms of social life can help people solve important social problems without the government’s involvement, which will eventually contribute to the formation of civil society. Different characteristics, including gender, age and settlement type, influence people’s participation in these activities. The results of CRRC’s 2015 Caucasus Barometer survey allow us to find out which of the 12 activities included in the questionnaire, the population of Georgia was engaged in most during the six months prior to fieldwork and how this engagement differs by gender, age and settlement type.

A majority of Georgia’s population (58%) reports having helped friends or neighbors with household chores or childcare during the last six months, while a very small share (6%) answered that they have signed a petition or written a letter, or made a phone call to a TV/radio program (5%). A rather small share reports having attended a public meeting to discuss issues that are important for the community (17%).

 Note: Only the share of those answering “Yes” is presented in the charts throughout this blog.

The finding that a majority of the population reports helping friends or neighbors with household chores is unsurprising, given that Georgia is a country where trust, cooperation and compassion between members of primary social groups (such as family, friends, etc.) is especially strong. As CRRC’s 2011 report “An Assessment of Social Capital in Georgia" pointed out, bonding (within group) social capital is rather strong in Georgia, while bridging social capital, which links representatives of different social groups, is weaker.

People living in different types of settlements report different levels of participation in these activities, and differences are especially apparent between those living in the capital and rural settlements. For example, 62% of the Tbilisi population donated money to a church or a mosque during the last six months, while 52% of people living in rural settlements reported the same. A smaller share of the rural population reported making a contribution to a non-religious charity, including donations by sms and giving money to beggars, compared to the urban population. However, a larger share of people living in rural settlements helped friends or neighbors than the share that did so in Tbilisi or other urban settlements. As for volunteering, there are no visible differences between people living in different settlement types.
Note: Only activities in which at least 20% of the population reported having been engaged in are presented in the chart above and throughout the remainder of this blog.

Involvement in these activities is significantly lower among people who are older than 56, while people between the ages of 18-35 and 36-55 participate at similar rates.

Interestingly, a larger share of men compared to women helped someone to resolve a dispute, volunteered, and helped a friend or neighbor with household chores. The only activity where women’s involvement is higher than men’s is donating money to a church or mosque.

This blog post has looked at the Georgian population’s involvement in different activities, and how this involvement varies by age, sex and settlement type. To see more data from the Caucasus Barometer survey, visit CRRC’s online data analysis tool.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Environmental issues in Georgia: a concern for all?

[Note: This post was first published on Friday, July 15th at the Clarion.]

By Sacha Bepoldin

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) has highlighted that “Environmental decline adversely affects the health, well-being and livelihood opportunities of the individuals affected by pollution or natural resource depletion. Soil erosion, deforestation, the loss or depletion of animal and plant species limit the productive opportunities of vast numbers of people.” In Georgia, according to the 2009 National Report on the State of the Environment of Georgia and the 2012-2016 National Environmental Action Programme, the increasing number of natural disasters, chemical pollution of soils and progressing desertification, mainly in Shida Kartli, Kvemo Kartli and parts of Kakheti, are clear signs of man-made pollution. Both rural and urban inhabitants of Georgia are affected by environmental problems, albeit of a different nature. As public opinion data shows, people assess the importance of environmental problems differently. This blog post examines the salience of pollution as an issue for the settlement where people live and the relative importance of this problem compared to other issues, using the CRRC/NDI August 2015 survey.

One of the questions asked during the survey was, “Speaking of public goods in general, what are the three most important issues in your settlement?” Pollution was the fourth most frequently mentioned issue countrywide, after roads, water supply and gas supply. There are, however, differences in the frequency of naming these issues by settlement type. While pollution was the main issue in the capital, named by 44% of Tbilisi residents, it was named by only 7% of the rural population.

Note: The sum of answers does not add up to 100%, since respondents could name up to three issues. The charts in this blog post display only the five most frequently named issues at the national level.

At the national level, improvement of the water supply and roads are the public’s highest priorities in terms of budget spending, while pollution again ranks fourth. Pollution represents the highest priority for the population of Tbilisi, but only 1% of the rural population thinks spending on pollution should be a budgetary priority.

The rural population likely underestimates the importance of pollution and environmental issues in general. At the same time, a study conducted by the University of Gothenburg highlighted that degrading agricultural practices affect 35% of farmland in Georgia, which is already scarce due to the mountainous landscape of the country. As agriculture, according to official sources, is the main employment sector in the country, such practices threaten the lifestyle and economic opportunities of a large share of the population. Given the disconnect between lack of concern over this issue in rural settlements, on the one hand, and the likelihood that it affects the rural population, on the other hand, a communication campaign focused on environmental protection, especially in rural settlements, could help prevent further environmental problems.

To look through the data in more depth, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis platform.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Who should Georgia’s closest economic partners be?

Reports on Georgia’s shifting public opinion of Russia and the West have been widely discussed on this blog and elsewhere. Focusing specifically on economic aspects, the Georgian population thinks both Russia and the EU have a greater influence on the Georgian economy than they should, although this perception is not necessarily based on the country’s actual economic relations with either Russia or the EU. More diverse economic partnerships and the population’s awareness of these partnerships could decrease this perceived influence. Notably, there are signs that many regional economic powers are happy to increase their trade with Georgia: with Iran looking to triple or quadruple trade with Georgia and China investing in Georgia as part of the new Silk Road initiative, new players are stepping into the Georgian economy. Iran and China aside, Turkey has long seen Georgia as a market for Turkish goods and a transit corridor to trade partners in Central Asia, especially now that diplomatic and trade ties between Russia and Turkey have deteriorated. This blog post looks at the Georgian population’s attitudes towards economic relations with several countries, using CRRC-Georgia’s survey on Knowledge and Attitudes towards the EU in Georgia (EU survey), which was carried out for Europe Foundation in 2015.

When asked to choose which countries or unions Georgia should have the closest economic cooperation with, people most often name Russia, the EU, and Turkey. The answers are, however, rather different by settlement type, as well as between ethnic minority and majority populations.

Note: While answering this question, respondents were asked to choose three countries/unions from a list of 14 provided on a show card. 

The choice of Russia for preferred economic partner is notable considering Georgia’s current level of trade with the country. While the share of exports to Russia has increased over the last three years, since Russia lifted the 2006 embargo on Georgian exports in 2013 and 2014, it still only accounts for 7% of exports from Georgia, and 8% of Georgia’s imports come from Russia. As expected, younger, urban dwellers tend to mention the EU as Georgia’s preferred economic partner more often, while older rural dwellers tend to mention Russia. Ethnic minorities mention Russia or Turkey more often than the EU. Compared to the population of the rest of the country, those living in Tbilisi are more likely to mention the EU and new economic partners like China.

The EU and Turkey, Georgia’s largest economic partners, are far more involved in the Georgian market, yet overall, fewer answered they would prefer them as the closest economic partner compared to Russia. While trade with the EU has doubled since 2009, fewer people mentioned the EU as a partner that Georgia should have the closest economic cooperation with in 2015 (47%) than in 2013 (60%). Ironically, the drop in 2015 coincides with the introduction of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) in 2014, which aims at increasing trade between the EU and Georgia.

In the same survey, a similar question was asked about countries or unions that Georgia should have closest political cooperation with. There is a strong statistical correlation between the answers to questions about political and economic cooperation, with Spearman’s correlation coefficients ranging from .623 to .754 when tested for Russia, the EU, Turkey, China, and Iran.

The majority of Georgia’s population still prefers Russia as an economic partner regardless of Georgia’s growing trade ties elsewhere. There may be a number of possible explanations for this finding, two of which seem quite reasonable. On the one hand, the population is likely not entirely aware of the diversity of Georgia’s trade relations and concomitant economic interests. On the other hand, attitudes towards economic partnership may be influenced by political attitudes.

To explore the data more, take a look at our Online Data Analysis platform.

Monday, July 04, 2016

How Georgia became an upper-middle income country

A year ago, on this blog, we took a look at how Georgia had likely become an upper-middle income country because of the 2014 census. On July 1st, the World Bank announced that Georgia had indeed changed income categories, moving from lower-middle income to upper-middle income. Given the change, we thought it would be worth re-posting the blog post from last year discussing how Georgia became an upper-middle income country:

An interesting implication of the 2014 census: Georgia is likely an upper middle income country

While Georgia has yet to be officially declared an upper middle income country by the World Bank, as a result of the 2014 census, it’s likely to be labeled one after the final census results are published in April of 2016. Interestingly, Georgia likely became one in 2013. Why is this the case and what are the implications? Let’s take a look using the 2014 preliminary census data and a population model developed by Ilia State University’s Giorgi Tsuladze published in a 2014 United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) and International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET) report.

The 2002 census was way off

In 2002, the Georgian government carried out a population census and found that there were 4.37 million Georgians. This number though was and is widely considered to be suspect. According to the 2014 UNPF report (and notably, Geostat employees at the time), the main problem with the 2002 census was its method of counting the migrant population. Specifically, the 2002 population count included 114,000 migrants who may have been permanently settled abroad rather than temporarily. This number may have been even higher considering that an estimated one million Georgians left the country between 1990 and 2002. Their family members who were interviewed for the census may have been reluctant to report that their relatives had gone abroad and instead reported them as temporary migrants or still in the country for a variety of reasons.

Not only was the census off, but so too were the civil registries which count birth and death registration. Between censuses, governments update population counts based on birth and death registrations, but because many births in Georgia happened and to a certain extent still happen outside of hospitals, births are not always registered. Also important are the lack of death registrations.

Recognizing these problems, Giorgi Tsuladze, a Professor at Ilia State University, made a downward adjustment of the population figure from the 2002 census, an upward adjustment to the birth rate, and a decrease in the estimate of the average life expectancy to estimate the population. In turn, his estimates of the population are quite close to what the preliminary 2014 census results tell us about the Georgian population – there are about 3.7 million people in Georgia (excluding South Ossetia and Abkhazia).

Geostat population estimate (thou.)Tsuladze population estimate (thou.)

Source: Tsuladze, G.; N. Maglaperidze and A. Vadachkoria. 2002. Demographic Overview of Georgia. Tbilisi, UNFPA. Cited in
Hakkert, Ralph, Gulnara Kadyrkulova, Nata Avaliani, Eduard Jongstra, Lasha Labadze, Maka Chitanava, and Nino Doghonadze. Population Situation Analysis (PSA) 2014. Rep. Tbilisi: United Nations Population Fund, 2015. Print.

Income classifications

The second important part of this story is understanding how countries are classified into income groups. The World Bank classifies countries by Gross National Income per capita (slightly different than Gross Domestic Product per capita – see here for exact definitions).

Countries with a per capita GNI of less than $1,045 are considered low income countries. Countries with greater than $1045, but less than $4,125 GNI/capita are classified as lower-middle income countries. Countries below $12,736 but above $4,125 GNI/capita are considered upper middle income countries, and countries above the $12,736 mark are considered to be upper income countries.

Since, a country’s income classification is based on the size of its population, and as we saw above, Georgia’s official population size was inflated by a fairly sizable margin for the past twelve years, Georgia’s GNI per capita (as well as GDP per capita) was underestimated.

Georgia probably moved from the lower-middle income to the upper-middle income grouping in 2013 when GNI per capita moved from from $3914 in 2012 to $4240 in 2013 (based on Tsuladze’s population estimates). In 2014, using the preliminary census data, Georgia’s GNI was $4489/capita. Hence Georgia has very likely moved income groups, barring a major miscount of the preliminary census data of roughly 330,000 people.

Why does this matter?

Well, it is good and bad news for Georgia.

To start with the bad, aid is sometimes distributed based on a country’s economic status. There are many other important factors at play (see here for a discussion of the subject), but nonetheless it is often considered in aid decisions. Hence, Georgia may expect lower levels of aid in the coming years as its per capita economic statistics are adjusted upward following the finalization of the 2014 census in 2016.

When it comes to the good news for the country, Georgians are doing better than the numbers suggested. This does not change the facts on the ground and widespread poverty experienced in Georgia, but in the long run it can lead to a number of benefits. For instance, foreign private capital flows may increase as the country may be perceived as a more enticing investment environment, having moved to a higher income category.

The upward adjustment will also be important for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration prospects. One of the key factors which the EU has identified as a barrier to prospective membership for countries in its neighborhood is low income levels, and as Georgia’s income level gradually increases, it will make Georgia a more attractive partner country. Notably, the lower population also means that per capita income is increasing at a higher rate than previously thought. In the short term, it may also help ease fears over migrant flight from Georgia (which is likely an inhibiting factor at present for Georgia in the EU visa liberalization process). It is important to note that if income inequality persists in Georgia, economic growth is unlikely to deter migrants from attempting to make their way to the EU, though a fuller treatment of this subject is beyond the scope of this post.

On the grand scheme of things, the adjustment is good as well. While not necessarily good for Georgia, countries in more dire straits may receive more aid that would have been aimed at Georgia. Better decisions about what kind of aid the country receives may also result from the more accurate data and income categorization.

Although we should not expect to see the official income categorization change to upper-middle until after Geostat has published the final census numbers and adjusted its population estimates for 2002-2014, it should occur in the next few years.

To take a look through the preliminary 2014 census results, take a look here, and for the estimates of the population size which this blog is based on as well as other interesting data and analysis on Georgia’s demographic situation, take a look at the UNPF/ISET report, here. Notably, Georgia is not the first and surely not the last country to have a major economic indicator readjustment based on something besides economic growth. Ghana and Nigeria both have had large changes to their economic indicators in recent years caused by how GDP was calculated rather than growth with interesting implications. Listen to this Planet Money story to find out more.