Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Europe’s social polarisation and the generational struggle

This post, written by Bruegel's Olga Tschekassin, discusses the latest results on Europe's poverty rates, unemployment rates and income inequalities. The post is a part of the Wikiprogress Series on Jobs and Earnings.

According to the latest Eurobarometer survey on the social impact of the crisis, 80% of respondents believe that poverty has increased in their country over the past 12 months. Over 30% of respondents in Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary reported that their household ran out of money to pay for ordinary bills, food and other daily consumer items at some point during the previous 12 months. These alarming numbers are reflecting the perception of European citizens. But what do indicators measuring different dimensions of poverty and inequality actually show?

The best publically available indicator to assess poverty is the ”Severe Material Deprivation Rate” (SMDR). It is an absolute measure of poverty and represents the proportion of people who cannot afford at least four out of nine basic needs, like utilities, regular hot meals or heating to keep the home adequately warm. As you can see in the interactive map below, there is a strong dispersion across Europe. While Bulgaria has the highest rate (44.1%), in Luxembourg only 1.3% of people are severely affected by a lack of resources. The average rate in EU27 countries increased from 9% percent in 2007 to 9.9% in 2012. Even though this increase does not seem to be as dramatic as the survey implies, it is worth highlighting that a share of almost 10% is unacceptable and against the objective of promoting the well-being of EU citizens.

(To view an interactive version of this map, see the original post here.)
There were opposite developments for young and old people in the EU: the SMDR stood at 11.7% for those under 18 at the end of 2012, while the rate for the elderly (over 65) reached 7.5%. The evolution of these rates since 2007 is divergent: Between 2007 and 2012, in 20 out of 28 EU countries the elderly SMDR declined on average by 4.5 percentage points (pp). At the same time, however, in 16 out of 28 countries the children SMDR has increased on average by 4.4 pp. Therefore, a generational divide is emerging: while the fall in severely materially deprived elderly people is a welcomed development, the adverse development for children is worrying.

Looking at the unemployment rate, we observe an increase in all EU countries in the period 2007–2012 with the exception of Germany, while the rate remained practically unchanged in Austria, Malta, Finland and Poland. The EU28 average unemployment rate stood at 7.2 % of active population in 2007. By the third quarter of 2013, this rate had increased to 10.9%. The countries with the lowest unemployment rates are Austria, Germany and Luxembourg, as opposed to Greece, Spain, Croatia, Cyprus and Portugal, where the rate is very high. Overall we note that there was an increase in the South-North divide in terms of unemployment, which has reached unacceptably high levels in several south European countries and leads to more polarisation across Europe.

Directly related to this indicator is the share of people living in jobless households, which has increased significantly throughout the crisis. The situation is especially alarming in Ireland, where every fifth child lived in 2012 in a household where no one worked. The share of such children was also higher than 15 % in Bulgaria, the UK and Hungary. Besides, the share of young people not in employment and not in any education and training (NEET) more than doubled in seven countries. The reality for young people aged between 15 and 24 years is worst in Greece, Spain and Croatia.

Using the Gini coefficient as an indicator for inequality, we observe the highest levels of inequality in 2012 in Latvia, Spain, Greece and Portugal, while the lowest rates are reported in Slovenia, Czech Republic and Sweden. As Zsolt Darvas and Guntram Wolff outline in their Policy Brief published on the 1st of April 2014, inequality in most advanced economies has been rising since about 1980 and could have been a reason for the pre-crisis increase in household debt and the consequent consumption squeeze during the crisis.

Therefore, developments of various social indicators show a gloomy picture. Social pain has already undermined the citizens’ trust in the EU and their own governments. This could devitalize the acceptability of painful structural reforms and fiscal consolidation measures and, in turn, diminish the reform momentum or even lead to political instability.

This blog first appeared here at on 1 April, 2014.
See Also:

Friday, 11 April 2014

We are already in a Beyond-GDP world, but we need a compass

This blog, written by Donato Speroni, provides some highlights from the final conference of the BRAINPOoL project which prove useful for moving beyond GDP. The post is based on an article published on and is part of the Wikiprogress Series on Data and Statistics.
Being a journalist and blogger about statistics and politics, I have been following the “Beyond GDP” (B-GDP) research since the 1st OECD Forum on “Statistics, Knowledge and policy” in Palermo in 2004. We all know that the need to find new ways for measuring progress was outlined almost 50 years ago by Robert Kennedy and that the research became a global effort from 2009, after the publication of the Stiglitz Report. The economic crisis dramatized the need for new parameters, because it changed the values contributing to an acceptable well-being, while sustainability is also becoming a growing concern.

Everywhere new statistics were provided, dashboards and composite indicators were tested, but the real problem was the limited use of these experiences by decision makers, especially at national level. The whole “measuring progress initiative” was risking to run aground, to remain a stimulating intellectual exercise with no impact on the real word.

In this framework, the final conference of the BRAINPOoL project on March 24 in Paris set a turning point. BRAINPOoL means “bringing alternative indicators into policy”, and the European Commission finances the project. The Paris meeting included two panel discussions, the first hosted personalities who had governmental or political responsibilities (Enrico Giovannini, Helen Goodman, Chantal Jouanno and Mikael Jungner), the second hosted economists and civil service directors from different countries (Jan Verschooten, Gus O’Donnell, Andrew Dean, Volker Schmitt, Wanda Gaj, Stefan Kooths), under the Chair of Martin Durand, OECD chief statistician. 

Here are some outputs that I found particularly interesting and stimulating:
  • Testimonials who held effective political and administrative power confirm that the adoption of B-GDP indicators might really change the priorities of political action. For example, labour market policy might be different if explicitly driven by the aim of maximising well-being. Today’s politicians mainly look at employment and unemployment rates. The use of alternative indicators would show greater importance for a work-life balance, quality working conditions and job security.
  • Inequalities impair the adoption of alternative indicators. The have-nots, who should benefit more from the B-GDP policies, cannot afford a trade-off between actual economic benefits, however limited, and future improvements of the social or environmental context. Talking about alternative indicators does not win votes.
  • In order to go beyond these difficulties, we need a “new narrative”. The alternative indicators should be presented in an effective and understandable way, putting the accent on the risks that we are taking if we stick to the traditional political targets. Data like GDP or unemployment are important, but place the attention on the short-term goals of political action. B-GDP indicators envision problems and collective interventions that might have an influence on the quality of life after five years or more, well beyond the electoral cycle. This contrast is evident if we take into consideration the environmental changes or the deterioration of the human and social capital of a community. A new narrative must be capable of arousing interest and engagement in the media, in public opinion and hence in political leaders, presenting the future effects of these current unsolved problems. Without this narrative, the short-term problems to be dealt with before the next elections will always prevail.
  • We need social and environmental data just as timely as the economic data. Almost all the social data comes out yearly, while the economic figures come out quarterly or monthly. Instead, “we want to know in real time how many people are alone at Xmas” as was said in Paris. Polls are not enough; we need reliable information, based on adequate investments in social statistics. In the UK, Margaret Thatcher decided to cut the social surveys because she did not want too many figures about poverty while she was implementing free market policies. Now (I think) we still need policies based on the free market (for instance, cuts in public spending), but we also want to know as soon as possible the social consequences in order to manage timely interventions.
  • In any case, the ideological quarrel about GDP should be scrapped. Tax revenues, public deficits and European policies aimed at reducing the sovereign debts all depend on the trends of the domestic product. GDP determines the dimension of public expenses and of social contributions. Therefore, it is a bad mistake (and a lost battle) to present GDP indicators and policies as a banner for “anti-market economics”.
  • The core of B-GDP is finding a way to enhance people’s satisfaction with their lives. It cannot be done without stronger policy interventions. This means having public powers which care about citizens’ relations, long life training and maybe people’s capacity to “extract happiness” from their condition. Do we really want this “invasive” public action? This is the real political issue, which requires common sense and “middle of the road” answers. We probably cannot accept ideologies in favour of knocking down State intervention with the wrong idea that the free market will “someday” overcome excessive inequalities in incomes, health or instruction. Most of us want public powers that protect the right to pursue happiness, but not many of us want a government telling its citizens “how to be happy” and “how to behave for their own good”. It’s a delicate political balance.
  • We need B-GDP models, as we have models based on GDP, but we do not know how to put the social data into these models. It would be even more difficult to include the environmental data about phenomena which cannot be priced, like biodiversity. Econometric models are not perfect and their predictions are often wrong, especially in these times of crisis, but they are employed to evaluate different alternatives in fiscal and monetary policy. National and international institutions have their own models, constantly updated. Now we would need to enlarge these systems of equations in order to obtain a “well-being forecast”, which should tell us, if new public decisions might increase or decrease collective quality of life, distances between social classes, preservation of natural or cultural resources, or even warn us of the risks of social unrest or environmental catastrophe. It’s a big challenge.

The general impression after the Paris debate was that we are already “beyond GDP”, because political decisions do not depend only on growth and other economic factors. We currently have many statistical indicators which might help in this process, much more than ten years ago, However, decision makers use them randomly, following their own convenience without any effective consensus on the choice of the data considered important in the political debate. We are in a B-GDP Europe, but we still don’t have a compass to help us find our way. This is an important topic for the next European elections and for the incoming Commission in Brussels. The BRAINPOoL process offered a lot of food for thought and needs to be continued.

In a short time, another important B-GDP project will come to a conclusion: the E–Frame project by the National statistics institutes will produce a “Handbook for the use of alternative indicators”. Italy has an important role in this process, with the leadership of E-Frame by Istat (together with Statistics Netherlands) and the new national Bes indicators for equitable and sustainable well-being. I hope that the government in Rome will give adequate attention to the B-GDP issues during the Italian semester of the European presidency starting on July 1st of this year.

- Donato Speroni
See Also:

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The New Deal and its Peace and State-building Goals (PSGs) applicable to Latin America?

This post, by Miriam Moeller with the International Dialogue Secretariat, is about the potentials and benefits of applying the New Deal to Latin American countries. The blog is in light of the current Wikiprogress América Latina online discussion on the New Deal and is a part of the Wikiprogress series on Governance.
Many of you may not have heard about the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States before now.

The New Deal is a key agreement between the 19 fragile states of the g7+ group, development partners of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) and Civil Society (represented through the Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding - CSPPS). Its goal is to activate change in policy and practice in fragile and conflict-affected countries. This change is considered essential in order to strengthen trust between development partners, to put countries in the lead of their transitions and to achieve better development results. The New Deal establishes five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) which help to enable progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and to guide national and international efforts and resources. These goals include:
  1. Inclusive politics: Foster inclusive political settlements and conflict resolution.
  2. Security: Establish and strengthen people’s security.
  3. Justice: Address injustices and increase people’s access to justice.
  4. Economic Foundations: Generate employment and improve livelihoods.
  5. Revenues & Services: Manage revenue and build capacity for accountable and fair service delivery.
The New Deal sets out new terms of engagement to support transitions from conflict and fragility to peace and stabilisation that is lead and owned by countries. It further outlines a series of commitments to achieve better results through strong partnerships and mutual trust.

But how can it be applied to the Latin American context? Does it have any relevance there?

To answers those questions, it is useful to take a quick look at the progress and challenges that Latin America is facing today. The Latin American region as a whole has shown very high economic growths rates over the last few years. Since 2011, more Latin Americans are part of the middle class than those living in poverty. Employment has increased, and average real incomes have risen by more than 25% since the new Millennium (World Bank 2013).

Nevertheless, growth and development has not reached all countries nor all citizens in the same way. Standards of living still differ widely between and within countries, presenting a challenge for the region. Poverty rates remain high, with around 80 million people still living in extreme poverty (World Bank 2013). One of the biggest challenges facing Latin America today remains tackling inequality.

Another great challenge that concerns Latin America is insecurity. According to the Economist “[…] insecurity has become perhaps the single most pressing problem facing the region”. Urban violence, high crime rates, and illicit trafficking make up part of the picture. As the Human Development Report for Latin America 2013-2014 shows, the region registers more than 100,000 homicides per year. The report also demonstrates that there is a connection between violent crime and low education. For example, in all assessed countries, more than 80% of inmates did not complete 12 years of schooling. 

Another pressing concern, extremely relevant to the social contract between state and citizens, is the high perception of corruption in Latin American societies, according to the Corruption Perception Index 2013 (see below). This lack of trust in state institutions can be a driver of political unrest (as recently seen in Venezuela). 

So how can the New Deal and the PSGs help middle income countries in Latin America to tackle those challenges?

As already mentioned, the New Deal provides a framework to activate change and to set development priorities.

In the development co-operation between Latin American countries and their development partners, documents defining development strategies might already exist. The New Deal can bring positive change to those working relationships and will put countries in the lead role to bring forward that change. Through the assessment of drivers and causes of fragility, countries can set priorities for addressing the most pressing concerns as well as their underlying causes and can integrate these into existing documents. The PSGs underline those priorities and help to measure their progress over time.

The five PSGs can all be relevant to tackle the challenges that remain for Latin American countries. For example, a Fragility Assessment can identify what is driving urban violence in a particular context. An outcome of this analysis might be that unemployment, access to social mobility and a lack of education within parts of the society can provoke violent behaviour. So as a result, education must be made available to all parts of the population – it must be inclusive. Service delivery in form of ensuring better quality of educational systems and strengthening economic foundations to tackle unemployment are useful activities as well. Those activities can then be marked as priorities in both national and developmental policies and then their progress can be measured through the PSGs. The same can be applied to identifying drivers of social unrest, addressing corruption, etc..

On the other hand, the New Deal can be a relevant framework for emerging donors such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela. Since many of these countries engage in fragile states (e.g. Brazil in East Timor, Haiti, and Guinea-Bissau), or countries with pockets of fragility (e.g. Mexico in El Salvador and Guatemala), the New Deal can provide a framework to work differently with these donor countries by using the PSGs to set priorities on central developmental issues and by giving Latin American donor countries the leading role in developmental planning. The principles of the New Deal can also help to strengthen trust between these emerging donors and their partners through transparency, predictability of aid and mutual accountability.



Friday, 4 April 2014

The Well-being of Youth around the Globe

The blog, by Wikichild co-ordinator Melinda Deleuze, is about the new Global Youth Wellbeing Index which measures how youth are doing under 6 domains in 30 countries with hopes of ultimately improving the outcomes for young people around the world. This post is a part of the Wikiprogress Series on Child Well-being.
This week, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) launched their "Global Youth Wellbeing Index", with support from Hilton Worldwide. This Index was designed to promote attention to youth issues, to encourage dialogue about the issues, and to invest in young people, given that they are the catalysts for development, prosperity and security. The Index is intended for youth themselves, policymakers, donors and investors, and implementers.

The report on the 2014 results explains some of the situational landscapes in which youth today are living, both negative (i.a. unemployment; poverty; gender inequality) and positive (i.a. education returns; HIV declines; technological know-how). In order to create a clearer picture of what is happening with nearly 70% of the youth (aged 10-24) around the world, the Index uses 40 indicators and provides results for 30 countries.

These indicators are divided into 6 domains (citizen participation; economic opportunity; education; health; information and communications technology; safety and security), with 5-9 indicators per domain. Also, to provide a piece of subjective well-being among youth, the Index integrates 1-2 subjective youth outlook and satisfaction indicators (e.g. perceived stress levels among youth) into each domain.

The main findings highlighted in the report are:
  • A large majority of the world’s youth are experiencing lower levels of well-being (15% experience high or upper-middle well-being, 85% experience lower-middle or low well-being.)
  • Even where young people are doing relatively well, they still face specific challenges and limitations
  • Even where youth may not be thriving, they display success in certain areas
  • How young people feel about their own wellbeing does not always align with what the objective data suggests
  • Across countries, domain average scores indicate youth faring strongest in health and weakest in economic opportunity 
  • Overall, youth well-being trends correlate more strongly with countries’ income levels than with their regions. Young people in wealthier countries tend to have higher overall well-being (see below).  

Global Youth Wellbeing Index Rankings by World Bank Income Classification

The report provides recommendations and next steps:
  • Advance youth voices and participation 
  • Promote deeper-dive and targeted research and analysis 
  • Consider integrated policies and programs
  • Advance the body of age-disaggregated and youth survey data
There are limitations to the Index, such as incomplete, inconsistent and uncoordinated data. The picture of youth also too broad, as the data is not disaggregated by gender, region, rural/urban, disability, religion, socio-economic status, etc.. However, the authors believe that by identifying the relevant data gaps, the Index can also assist the post-2015 development agenda.

The first steps can be difficult, but luckily those involved are aware of the challenges ahead and are willing to take this Index deeper and farther in the coming years. I look forward to seeing what the Global Youth Wellbeing Index will teach us in the coming years.  

Wikichild Co-ordinator 

See Also
The Good Childhood Index
The Child and Youth Well-being Index
UNICEF Child-Wellbeing measure
Child Development Index
Early Development Index
Holistic Early Childhood Development Index

Monday, 31 March 2014

Invitation to join the Online Discussion on "Civil Society and Actions to Promote Well-being"

This post is an invitation to join the Wikiprogress Latin America online discussion on "Civil Society and Actions to Promote Well-being". You're invited to share your knowledge and experiences regarding well-being programmes in Latin America.

The OECD Mexico Centre, el Seminario Satisfacción Subjetiva con la Vida y la Sociedad (SAVISO)-UNAM-IIS, International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, Alternativas y Capacidades A.C., Wikiprogress and Wikiprogress América Latina 

 invite you to join this online discussion

from 1 April 09:00 until 16 April 22:00 (GMT)

This discussion will be a unique opportunity to reflect and exchange best practices, research and experiences on the topic. 

Leading Questions:

  • In Latin America, what community programmes and civil society activities are held in order to promote well-being?
  • How is the impact of well-being programmes being evaluated?
  • What factors and attributes contribute to the success of the programs identified?
  • What are the main lessons learned from these programmes? What recommendations could be made ​​from these experiences?
  • What are some obstacles faced in Latin America for the implementation and effectiveness of programmes that seek to promote well-being?

We invite you to leave your comments in Spanish, Portuguese, English or French in the section entitled “Contribuye” of the discussion webpage. To participate, click here

Here is the link to the page: and the hashtag in Twitter is #SociedadCivilYAcciones 

We will also be joining with the parallel event of the “International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding” held during the First High Level Meeting on Global Partnership for Effective Cooperation. Join the event and contribute!
  1. How can civil society use the New Deal to hold governments accountable to citizens?
  2. How can the New Deal Peace and state building goals (PSGs) be made applicable to middle income countries in Latin America?
If you would like to join the discussion use the hashtag #newdeal on Twitter.

For more information we invite you to contact us at:

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

India’s high fertility: The myths and the reality

This article by Shailaja Chandra attempts to uncover widespread assumptions about women’s fertility, contraception and the role that religion plays in birth control. The good news is that 44 per cent of the population living in 21 states and union territories of India has already achieved replacement levels of fertility. Kerala and Tamil Nadu achieved this more than a score of years ago. This post is part of the Wikiprogress series on measuring progress on gender equality.

Population stabilisation efforts in the rest of the country are of relatively recent origin but none-the-less commendable. The added good news is that the increase in contraceptive prevalence has been larger and faster among illiterate and uneducated women than those with schooling.

According to the International Institute of Population Sciences (EPW Arokiasamy 2009), more than two fifths of the reduction in Total Fertility Rate country-wide is attributable to illiterate women. The study calls it “remarkable demographic behaviour which has given significant direct health benefits to women and children — almost equal to what educational improvement has done for progress in human development.”

Now some disappointments: States which continue to lag behind are the same — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan — some 284 problem districts account for nearly half India’s population and 60 per cent of the yearly births countrywide.

Among 18 to 24-year-old couples the contraceptive prevalence rate is not even 19 per cent. In many districts it is as low as 10 per cent. According to NFHS -3 and the latest Annual Health Survey, in Bihar more than half the women in the child bearing group are not using any family planning method.

Ideally one should wait for the unravelling of the 2011 Census data and the results of NFHS- 4 to see the extent of improvement but both reports are expected only in a year or two.

Even so, lessons that existing reports provide will only get updated — certainly not set aside.

In India, female sterilisation continues to be the most dominant method of birth control even though women overwhelmingly favour non-invasive options. In the absence of tools that do not depend on partner-co-operation (condoms) or adherence to rigid regimens (pills), a poor woman confronts the prospect of an unwanted pregnancies every month, until somebody agrees to escort her for an operation. The policy question is whether by facilitating more acceptable birth control options one can accelerate fertility regulation and in the process improve health outcomes for women (and newborns).

That brings one to a widespread myth relating to the practice of contraception by religion. Professor P.M. Kulkarni at JNU who has researched differentials in population growth among Hindus and Muslims (using NFHS data) says that all religious communities have experienced substantial fertility decline and contraceptive practice has been well accepted by all. Within religious faiths, 85 per cent of Hindu women would like to limit the family to two children whereas in the case of Muslim women, the figure is 66 per cent.

Even so, fertility levels among the poor, be it Hindus or Muslims are not so widely different and have in fact narrowed considerably. he difference in births boils down to less than one child per woman. “This,” says Kulkarni “belies the general belief that Muslim women are barred from using contraceptives.” The belief that religion and religious fiats discourage contraception among Muslims is not borne out by statistics.

An even more significant aspect of his analysis of NFHS data shows that the unmet need for family planning is one and a half times more among Muslim women than Hindu women.

In terms of contraceptive use, Muslim women’s use of the pill is almost twice that of Hindu women and the use of IUD is also higher compared to Hindu women. Two things can be concluded:

First that among the rural poor, the difference in fertility between Hindus and Muslims is not as marked as is usually supposed.

Second: there is a perceptible difference in the preferred method of contraception: Muslim women seem to be more open to the use of it.

This leads one to ask what might be the trends in Muslim dominated countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Iran which have achieved high levels of contraceptive use.

According to the UN Economic & Social Affairs Population Division’s Contraceptive Use by Method (2012,) in Bangladesh the use of the pill is more than 25 per cent. Women also use IUDs and injectables in sizeable measure. In the case of Indonesia injectables are the preferred choice, followed by pill use. The use of condoms is comparatively small. Iranian women seem to rely hugely on the pill but they also use IUDs in high proportion.

To sum up, the focus of the reproductive health programme has appropriately been on the laggard districts -  mostly in the Hindi belt. But reduction in fertility has to be pursued by meeting the unmet demand for specific contraceptive choices and not by depending predominantly on sterilizing women. This requires three approaches: first by encouraging spacing among 18 to 24-year-olds; second improving access to contraceptive choices for women who are averse to sterilization. Finally what other countries have done to great advantage needs a re-look. In China, 40 per cent of the women rely on IUCDs. In India more and more women with children have begun opting for IUDs but access needs to increase manifold because the device gives a 3 to 10 year protection against pregnancy and can be reversed at will. Finally, latest research on the safety of injectables needs to be investigated afresh, looking at international best practices.

Instead of lamenting over irresponsible parenthood, the focus needs to target the unmet needs of specific population cohorts to empower women with what they need the most - liberty to decide when to have the next child or not to have one. Without being subjected to an operation.

Religion is not the issue --- women’s freedom to decide about pregnancy and childbirth is.
This blog originally appeared on Shailaja Chandra's blog, here