Drivers of subjective well-being in Zim

Congestion in Harare has worsened of late, increasing the time devoted to commuting, which diminishes subjective well-being.

WELL-BEING is a key component for creating productive and healthy societies. The first and legitimate goal of public policy is to protect human life and advance well-being and happiness.

Agenda 2030 calls for governments to put in place interventions and policies geared towards improving well-being and happiness of the citizens.

The economics of happiness or subjective well-being (SWB) is becoming an increasingly important area for policy makers.

Generally, SWB refers to how individuals experience and evaluate their lives. SWB encompasses both the level of happiness individuals experience at a specific moment and their overall satisfaction with their life.

SWB in Zimbabwe, similar to other African countries, has been low.

The happiness index for Zimbabwe declined from 4,83 in 2013 to 2,995 in 2022.

Zimbabwe's average happiness score throughout that time was 3,88 points, with a minimum score of 3 in 2021 and a top score of 4,83 in 2013.

In 2023, Zimbabwe was ranked 134 out of 137 countries in terms of happiness. The low scores necessitate the identification of drivers of SWB in the country.

Wilson's ground-breaking study in 1967 found that three key factors that determine any form of well-being are excellent health, quality education and high incomes.

Traditionally, these three factors are the core of the Human Development Index (HDI) established by the United Nations in 1990 to redirect governmental attention from only prioritising economic growth to emphasising social well-being.

SWB is positively influenced by high incomes due to the advantages of increased wealth. The Easterlin paradox states that persons with higher incomes in a community tend to be happier, although the increase in happiness is not proportional to the increase in income.

The raft of revenue measures contained in the 2024 National Budget, such as, the introduction of levy on sugar content of beverages and upward reviews of the strategic reserve levy tax and toll fees, have the potential to reduce disposable incomes whilst increasing the cost of living and consequently leading to a decline in SWB.

It is, therefore, critical for the government to ensure sufficient revenue collection without compromising the well-being of the people, particularly low-income earners.

Education has the potential to enhance subjective well-being (SWB) by equipping individuals with the skills and knowledge to effectively navigate and cope with external circumstances. However, education may also elevate ambition levels, leading to a decrease in happiness if they are not met.

Graduates face frustrations over lack of opportunities and the entry-level of incomes they earn after finishing school.

SWB is significantly determined by both physical and psychological health. Ill-health and disability have a detrimental and enduring impact on the life satisfaction of people.

The majority of public health institutions in the country are not adequately equipped to meet the health needs of the people, whilst healthcare costs in private institutions are significantly high and out of reach for many.

Despite efforts being made to better healthcare in the country, there is need for more focus on improving the availability of drugs, medical supplies and equipment, as well as the requisite personnel.

In addition, the amount of time dedicated to taking care of patients has a negative effect on overall life satisfaction and SWB.

It is established that women are the main caregivers and they are also found to be disproportionately impacted by poverty and sickness, as highlighted by the Zimbabwe Censuses of 2012 and 2022.

This supports evidence that shows that women have lower SWB compared to men. Improving the health system in Zimbabwe reduces the caregiver burden on women and empowers them to engage leisure and income-generating activities, which improve their SWB.

While income, education, and health are the primary factors influencing subjective well-being, there are a broader range of factors that also impact SWB.

Unemployment is one of the greatest predictors of SWB as people assign a lower subjective value to being unemployed.

Although strides have been made to reduce unemployment in Zimbabwe, there is need to update the 2018 skills audit and alignment of education curriculum to meet the skills needs of industry to enhance employability of graduates and potentially improving SWB in the country.

The time devoted to commuting to work is a factor that diminishes  SWB as it limits the amount of time available for leisure or productive pursuits.

In cities around Zimbabwe, traffic congestion often arises during the morning rush hours from 7am to 9am and the evening rush hours from 4pm to 7pm.

Over the past few weeks, congestion in Harare  has increased owing to roadworks being undertaken in the central business district (CBD).

The popular belief that traffic congestion can be alleviated by increasing road infrastructure is completely untrue. The fundamental law of traffic congestion states that Vehicle-Kilometres Travelled (VKT) increases in direct proportion with the quantity of accessible lane-kilometres of roadway.

The law does imply that road construction and expansions are unnecessary but shows that constructing new roadways and expanding current ones only leads to supplementary vehicular flow increases until congestion reverts back to its former state.

To reduce congestion and enhance SWB of commuters, adoption of a mass transit system (integrated bus and rail transport) aided by smart mobility technologies, public education and rigorous enforcement of road traffic regulations is necessary.

Regarding governance, transparency and accountability in public administrations has a beneficial impact on the well-being of individuals.

Corruption takes away resources from public service delivery towards private gains hence negatively impacting SWB of the citizens.

According to Transparency International's 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index, Zimbabwe ranks as the 149th least corrupt nation out of 180 nations, scoring 24 out of 100.

Intensifying the effectiveness and efficiency of anti-corruption and judiciary institutions by improving their financial and human resources goes a long way in positively impacting SWB.

Housing has a positive impact on SWB. Housing is regarded as a basic need by Maslow, one which when fulfilled leads to better well-being.

Zimbabwe's housing shortfall in 2023 was estimated to be 1,25 million units, translating to a national backlog of over five million residents or more than 40% of the population.

The housing problem in Zimbabwe, like in other African countries, has been identified as an income problem.

The issue at hand is mostly rooted in poverty, defined as the condition of having extremely low incomes that fall below a specific level necessary to meet basic demands.

Tackling the income issue seems to be a prudent path of action to resolving the housing problem and enhancing SWB.

Urban access to green and recreational areas contributes to stress reduction and the enhancement of mental well-being and SWB.

Wetlands and recreational areas are being converted into residential areas, and some of them have already become bustling centres of commercial operations.

The depletion of wetlands and recreational areas has partly contributed to the increase in drug and substance abuse in the country, which is detrimental to health and SWB of individuals.

Stricter enforcement of environmental laws and municipal by-law is necessary to minimise depletion of wetlands and recreational areas.

The determination of the drivers of SWB in the country lays a foundation for pro-people policies to be drafted and implemented.

  • Banda is a well-being economist and public policy analyst. These weekly New Perspectives articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe. — [email protected] or +263 772 382 852.


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