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Suffering in South Asia Highest in Region

Suffering in South Asia Highest in Region

by Linda Lyons and Daniela Yu

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- South Asians rated their lives worse in 2011 than most residents in other parts of Asia. At least one in five residents in Nepal (31%), Afghanistan (30%), India (24%), Sri Lanka (22%), and Pakistan (21%) rated their lives poorly enough to be considered "suffering." Bangladesh is the only South Asian country where suffering is significantly lower than its regional neighbors, at 10%.

Suffering across Asia

Gallup classifies respondents as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Respondents are not asked to classify their lives according to these labels. Those who rate their present life a 7 or higher on the ladder and their life in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving, while those who rate both dimensions a 4 or lower are considered suffering. Respondents whose ratings fall in between are considered struggling.

The relatively high levels of suffering in South Asia likely reflect the economic turmoil, war, conflict, domestic terrorism, or separatist movements that have afflicted many of these countries in the past decade. Additionally, most South Asian countries currently have higher levels of unemployment and corruption and lower levels of college education than the rest of Asia.

Relatively low levels of suffering in Bangladesh may run counter to extremely poor economic conditions in the nation. According to 2011 World Bank data, GDP per capita in Bangladesh is the third lowest in Asia, slightly above Nepal and Afghanistan -- countries with the highest levels of suffering in Asia, at 31% and 30%, respectively.

That Bangladeshis are less likely than residents in other South Asian countries to rate their lives poorly enough to be considered suffering may be related to Gallup's findings about education in the country. Educational attainment in Bangladesh is the highest in South Asia -- 50% of the adult population has at least secondary or higher education. Gallup also finds 82% of Bangladeshis are satisfied with their schools, perhaps providing a relatively young Bangladeshi population with optimism for a bright future.

One in Seven Hong Kong Residents Are Suffering

Hong Kong's 14% suffering rate may be surprising, given the region's fairly quick recovery from the global economic downturn and its high GDP per capita. Hong Kong residents, however, are beset with several problems that may contribute to them having one of the highest suffering rates in East Asia. A slim majority (54%) say they are dissatisfied with the availability of affordable housing, the highest percentage in East Asia. Also, when asked if they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the quality of air, 30% of Hong Kong residents say they are satisfied -- consistently one of the lowest percentages of satisfaction with air quality that Gallup measures worldwide.

In Southeast Asia, Suffering Is Lowest in Thailand; Highest in Cambodia

Although Thailand experienced flooding in October and November 2010 that badly damaged the manufacturing centers north of Bangkok and stunted the nation's recovery from the global recession, 1% of the population rated their lives poorly enough to be considered suffering in 2011. This is the lowest rate in Asia and one of the lowest rates in the world. This low level of suffering may relate to the low unemployment levels in Thailand, which Gallup estimates to be less than 5%.

After decades of conflict and political upheaval, it is not surprising that Cambodia is at the opposite end of the well-being spectrum in Southeast Asia, with more than one-quarter of Cambodians (26%) considered suffering. Demands for Cambodian exports lessened considerably during the economic downturn and GDP is among the lowest in Asia.


Asian countries are vastly diverse in terms of economic conditions, size, population, governance, culture, language, and religion; therefore, each country has a unique path toward improved well-being. Governments should carefully examine the root causes of suffering and create solutions for their citizens. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, policymakers cannot ignore some important building blocks of a thriving population: strong governance, available employment, satisfactory income levels, good health, and available education.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted between April 5 and Dec. 4, 2011, in the 20 countries identified in the article. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ± 2 percentage points to ±4 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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