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Paradox and Perception

Paradox and Perception: Measuring Quality of Life in Latin America

Carol Graham
Eduardo Lora
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 258
  • Book Info
    Paradox and Perception
    Book Description:

    The "quality of life" concept of quality of life is a broad one. It incorporates basic needs but also extends beyond them to include capabilities, the "livability" of the environment, and life appreciation and happiness. Latin America's diversity in culture and levels of development provide a laboratory for studying how quality of life varies with a number of objective and subjective measures. These measures range from income levels to job insecurity and satisfaction, to schooling attainment and satisfaction, to measured and self-assessed health, among others.

    Paradox and Perceptiongreatly improves our understanding of the determinants of well-being in Latin America based on a broad "quality of life" concept that challenges some standard assumptions in economics, including those about the relationship between happiness and income.

    The authors' analysis builds upon a number of new approaches in economics, particularly those related to the study of happiness and finds a number of paradoxes as the region's respondents evaluate their well-being. These include the paradox of unhappy growth at the macroeconomic level, happy peasants and frustrated achievers at the microlevel, and surprisingly high levels of satisfaction with public services among the region's poorest. They also have important substantive links with several of the region's realities, such as high levels of income inequality, volatile macroeconomic performance, and low expectations of public institutions and faith in the capacity of the state to deliver. Identifying these perceptions, paradoxes, and their causes will contribute to the crafting of better public policies, as well as to our understanding of why "populist" politics still pervade in much of the region.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0395-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Economics, Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Strobe Talbott and Luis Alberto Moreno

    The 2008–09 economic crisis—with its implications for the living standards of citizens in countries around the world—has heightened the debate on how to best measure human welfare. While income measures are fundamental to that exercise, economists are increasingly adopting new approaches and broader tools to answer questions about the effects of different environmental and institutional arrangements on well-being. There has been a burgeoning interest in the study of happiness in particular, based on surveys of reported well-being. These surveys provide new tools for measuring the effects of phenomena such as economic crisis, macroeconomic volatility, crime and corruption,...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 How Latin Americans Assess Their Quality of Life: Insights and Puzzles from Novel Metrics of Well-Being
    (pp. 1-21)

    This book is an attempt to better our understanding of the determinants of welfare in Latin America and the Caribbean,¹ a region that is diverse in terms of culture and levels of development. Some countries in the region are approaching developed country standards of living, while others approximate the per capita income levels of sub-Saharan Africa. Further, as is well-known, the region has relatively high intra-country variations in per capita income—indeed with the highest inequalities of any of the major world regions. These per capita income differences, in addition to the region’s cultural diversity, provide a laboratory for studying...

  6. 2 Objective and Subjective Deprivation
    (pp. 22-56)

    Deprivation is arguably the main social concern in the world. Just to mention one example, the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of the United Nations is halving poverty from 1990 to 2015. Although usually associated with income poverty, it has long been recognized that the concept of deprivation has multiple dimensions, including the lack of assets and opportunities and the own perception of low standard of living and social exclusion.

    Research on multidimensional deprivation in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has been less systematic than in the developed world, in part due to lack of relevant data. Although all...

  7. 3 The Conflictive Relationship between Satisfaction and Income
    (pp. 57-95)

    Income is the most revered variable in economics. At an aggregate level, the total income generated in a country is a measure of the size of its economy. Per capita income reflects the conditions of productivity and the purchasing power of the population, and the growth rate of this variable is the yardstick by which the material progress of a country is usually measured. On an individual level, personal disposable income represents the range of options that individuals have available to achieve maximum satisfaction. According to conventional economic theory, each increase in income makes possible an increase in satisfaction, albeit...

  8. 4 Satisfaction beyond Income
    (pp. 96-117)

    A broadened understanding of satisfaction challenges the traditional economic theory that assumes that individuals maximize their well-being based on decisions that correctly predict basic well-being derived from consumption and from other key decisions, such as the allocation of time between work and leisure activities. In reality, human behavior does not adhere to such simple propositions.¹ The motivations that intervene in decisions are diverse and include momentary impulses, commitments, or simple routines that give rise to decisions that do not necessarily lead to achieving maximum satisfaction. A paradoxical conclusion of satisfaction studies is that the explicit pursuit of happiness can be...

  9. 5 Vulnerabilities and Subjective Well-Being
    (pp. 118-157)

    Economists like to study people on the basis of what they do (choices). However, human beings are much more complex and many aspects of their wellbeing are not necessarily reflected in observable choices, but are embedded in intangibles such as wishes, perceptions and expectations. As Amartya Sen (1986, p.18) puts it, “the popularity of this view [individual utility only depends on tangible goods, services and leisure and it is inferred from behaviour, or revealed preferences] in economics may be due to a mixture of an obsessive concern with observability and a peculiar belief that choice is the only human aspect...

  10. 6 Health Perceptions and Quality of Life in Latin America
    (pp. 158-191)

    Health is widely recognized as a life dimension that is central to individual happiness, to quality of life, and to economic welfare. Yet our ability to measure health status—and how it varies across individuals and societies—is limited. Life expectancy and mortality are the two most commonly used measures of societal health and serve as important benchmark indicators. Yet health is much more than what these indicators gauge. Illness, functional limitations, and other conditions that limit physical or mental welfare are crucial dimensions of health, but they are much more difficult to measure; most of the tools that we...

  11. 7 Education and Life Satisfaction: Perception or Reality?
    (pp. 192-226)

    This chapter focuses on education, and more precisely on perceptions about the quality of the educational system, as one of life’s many dimensions that may be associated with well-being, understood as self-reported satisfaction.

    Education is one of the pillars of development, being both an end in itself and a mean toward the attainment of higher income, equity, and personal self fulfillment. Development studies have long emphasized that the quality of education provided is as important, or even more, as the quantity of education received by the population (that is, years of schooling and enrollment rates), particularly among the poor.


  12. 8 Job Insecurity and Life Satisfaction
    (pp. 227-248)

    High job turnover rates are a fact of life in any market economy, either developed or developing. Data compiled by the IDB for 12 countries show that gross rates of job creation and destruction range between 8 and 20 percent, adding up to total job turnover rates that range between 16 and 35 percent.¹ A total job turnover rate of 35 percent implies that about one in every three jobs is created or destroyed in a given year. In comparison, changes in net employment, that is, the difference between job creation and destruction, are substantially smaller. For instance, Brazil in...

  13. Contributors
    (pp. 249-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-258)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)