Noida: Elderly women in India report higher life satisfaction than elderly men, found an analysis of the Longitudinal Ageing Survey of India data presented in the World Happiness Report 2024. Of them, those who are currently married were happier than those who were not married--including those who were divorced, widowed and never married--as were those who reported being socially active, found the report.

India was ranked 126 of 143 countries by happiness in 2024, unchanged from 2023, and an improvement over the 2022 ranking (136). Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Israel were the happiest countries in the world, whereas Afghanistan was the least happy.

These ranks were based on the respondents’ response to a single question: “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?” Observed data on gross domestic product, social support, healthy life expectancy, etc. were then used to explain variation of life satisfaction across countries.

Worldwide, those born before 1965 were happier than those born after 1980, found the report.

There is a great variety among countries in the relative happiness of the younger, older, and in-between populations, said John F. Helliwell, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia, and a founding editor of the World Happiness Report. “Hence the global happiness rankings are quite different for the young and the old, to an extent that has changed a lot over the last dozen years,” he explained.

The report has a separate chapter explaining the factors contributing to the happiness levels of elderly Indians (60 and above).

Among the elderly, those who were working were happier than those who were not. Those belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes were less happy than those from other caste groups. Followers of Islam and other religions reported higher levels of happiness than those following Hinduism.

“Those who have no formal education, are not currently working, were ill treated, face discrimination, were not comfortable with living arrangements, belong to the scheduled castes/scheduled tribes, were widowed and report poor physical and mental health status are the least satisfied with their life,” explained Muhammad Thalil, a postdoctoral scholar at the Centre for Healthy Ageing at Pennsylvania State University, and one of the researchers who worked on the report.

Social capital affects life satisfaction: experts

For elderly Indians, in addition to gender, caste and employment status, life satisfaction levels differed with education in India: Those with primary education were happier than those with no education, and those with secondary education and above were the happiest of the three groups.

Satisfaction with living arrangement affected overall life satisfaction the most, determining 48.2% of the life satisfaction score. It was followed by perception of health (9.1% of the score) and feeling discriminated against (7.6% of the score).

Although most women have never been engaged in paid work, a factor that is 1.7% of the life satisfaction score, women appear to be more satisfied with life, found the report. “Though women were shown to be at a disadvantage in life satisfaction score at first glance, when we adjust for relevant socioeconomic and health variables (income and wages) in the multivariate model, men showed a certain disadvantage compared to women a certain advantage compared to men (in terms of life satisfaction),” explained Thaleel.

Women have a wider social network, have more people on whom they can rely outside of their family, explained Manacy Pai, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Kent State University

Further, among the elderly Indians, the poor are less satisfied with their life than the non-poor, and those residing in cities are happier than those living in villages. People from the western and central states were happiest and those from the south were the least happy.

“In addition to living in a just, equitable society, there is something to be said about the power of social support, on which we cannot put a price,” added Pai.

India among the least happy countries in the world

While the top three ranked countries were unchanged from last year, the US dropped out of the top 20 list because of a drop in well being of adults under the age of 30.

In South Asia, India was ranked behind Nepal (93), Pakistan (108) and Myanmar (118). Sri Lanka (128th), Bangladesh (129th) and Afghanistan were the three neighbouring countries ranked below India. Among the original BRICS nations, Brazil was ranked 44, Russia 72, China 60 and South Africa 83.

The report uses life satisfaction as a measure of well being, which is not the same as happiness, explained Pai. “Life satisfaction is a cognitive appraisal of how you think you’ve done over your entire life, whereas happiness is a fleeting momentary kind of emotion that you feel.”

Since the report also provides the variables which affect life satisfaction, it can provide leaders with “the right information about what people say makes life worthwhile”, said Jon Clifton, CEO of Gallup, the multinational analytics and management consultancy that conducted the poll worldwide.

“We know what the solution is to increase life satisfaction for decades: redistribute income and educate everyone to their God-given potential. But the political will to do that is intractable,” said Pai.

“It’s not just age or gender of older people which are the factors predicting life satisfaction, it should be health and socioeconomic resources, when we aim to increase the life satisfaction of the population as a whole,” added Thaleel.

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