Strict lockdown rules make SA unhappiest in country comparison - study

  • South Africa has the unhappiest population out of three countries following the implementation of lockdown regulations, a study has found.
  • The populations of Australia and New Zealand were also surveyed regarding their economies, political situation and demographic factors. 
  • The stricter the lockdown regulations, the greater the happiness loss, it was found. 

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments have implemented lockdown regulations to curb the spread of the virus. Though lockdowns do minimise the physical damage of the virus, there are substantial damage to population's happiness, well-being and livelihoods.

Researchers studying three very diverse countries - South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - regarding their economies, political situation and demographic factors, as well as the strictness of their lockdown regulations, have found:

  • That lockdown regulations are the direct cause of lower levels of happiness during the pandemic (the researchers used Difference-in-Difference econometric modelling strategies), thus even considering the diversity of countries and lockdown regulations, a lockdown decreases happiness and well-being;

  • The stricter the lockdown regulations, the greater the happiness loss. The graphs (below) compare the happiness losses in each of the three countries. In each of the graphs, the happiness levels of the specific country for 2020 is compared to that of 2019.  

As can be seen, all three countries suffered happiness losses, but the loss by South Africa, which has the strictest lockdown regulations (also considering the Government Response Stringency Indices) is by far the greatest. The average happiness loss, considering all three countries, was at least 6% (on 10 June) due to the lockdown.

However, the loss in South Africa was greater than in the other countries.  

stats
Happiness lost due to lockdowns: a comparison between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

These are the results of Professor Talita Greyling (University of Johannesburg) and Dr Stephanié Rossouw (Auckland University of Technology), who in collaboration with Afstereo launched South Africa's Happiness Index in April 2019 based on tweets extracted from the social media platform Twitter (see gnh.today).

As mentioned, the three countries selected in this study are very diverse: New Zealand is an island economy with a relatively small population of 5.5 million people, had an average happiness level for 2020 of 7.14 and the economic outlook was positive. The annual GDP growth rate in the year to December 2019 was 2.3%, the unemployment rate was relatively low at 4.2% (Statistics New Zealand 2020) and the debt as a percentage of GDP was 25%.

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They had 22 - out of a population of 5.5 million - Covid-19-related deaths. 

Australia, with a significantly larger population of 25.5 million, had an average happiness score of 7.09. Their annual GDP growth rate in the year to December 2019 was 1.9%, the unemployment rate was 6.2% and debt as a percentage of GDP was 41.73% (Australia Bureau of Statistics 2020).

They had 104 - out of a population of 25.5 million - Covid-19-related deaths.

South Africa, on the other hand, with the largest population of the three countries, with 57.7 million people, had a lower average happiness score of 6.32.

The economic outlook is bleak and is predicted to contract by 7% in 2020, debt as a percentage of GDP is predicted to be 81.8% by the end of 2020, and the unemployment rate is significantly higher than in the other countries at 30.1% for the first three months of 2020 (Statistics South Africa 2020).

South Africa had 2 529 - out of a population of 57.7 million - Covid-19-related deaths.

In addition, all three countries had different responses to curbing the spread of Covid-19. South Africa and New Zealand both had very strict lockdown regulations.

During South Africa's Level 5 lockdown, people were allowed to leave their homes only for essential reasons and were instructed to work from home.

The same regulations held for New Zealanders; however, New Zealanders were allowed to buy alcohol and tobacco, and exercise was permitted outside their homes.

Currently South Africa is on Level 3, slightly relaxing the lockdown measures, whereas New Zealand has progressed to Level 1, with no restrictions except on international travel.

At the other end of the spectrum, Australia, which follows a federal system of government, never went into complete lockdown, such as that implemented by both New Zealand and South Africa.

Considering these facts, it is interesting to find that the country with the bleakest economic outlook and the lowest levels of happiness and well-being, considering the three countries researched, persists in enforcing severe lockdown measures, notwithstanding the happiness and economic costs of the lockdown regulations.


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