Happiness Is In the Eye of the Statistician

Cambodians are a very contented people.

Practically nowhere else in the world are people as happy as Cambodians are with their government, their education system, and their “freedom of choice,” according to the UNDP’s Human Development Report 2013, which was released last month in Mexico.

The report, titled “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World,” compares achievements among 187 countries in health services, access to education, and income generation and was compiled using thousands of different figures to conclude that developing countries are economically and socially on the rise.

Overall, Cambodia ranked a lowly 138 out of the 187 countries included in the report, while neighboring Thailand and Vietnam ranked 103 and 127, respectively.

But Cambodia shone in some areas, and was singled out for data that shows Cambodians are more satisfied with the local education system than any other country in the world.

According to the report, 94.1 percent of Cambodians said that they were satisfied with the quality of education provided by the government.
That vote of approval stands in sharp contrast to some nearby neighbors and local education indicators.

Only some 55 percent of Japanese people said they were happy with their education system, while the figure was even lower in Hong Kong, where only about 50 percent of residents gave government education provisions the thumbs up.

Japan, however, ranked No. 10 and Hong Kong ranked No. 13 in the overall comparison of human development—more than 120 places higher than Cambodia.

And, according to the same report, 84.3 percent of the Cambodian population did not acquire a secondary education, the primary school dropout rate is 45.5 percent, and 22.4 percent of adults in Cambodia are illiterate.

Another figure included in the report shows that 90 percent of Cambodians trust in the national government, which puts the country at number three in the world in terms of such a response.

The only countries to rank higher than Cambodia in trusting their government were the one-party Communist state of Laos with 98 percent of respondents saying they trusted their rulers, and Rwanda with 92 percent.

Ninety-two percent of Cambodians also reported being satisfied with their freedom of choice (which relates to a person’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their freedom to choose what they do with their life), a result comparable to countries ranking highest on the overall human development ranking, such as Norway, Australia, Denmark, Ireland and New Zealand.

Asked about the report’s findings, the UNDP said that it did not collect the data for the report, but simply compiled data that already existed.

“[We use] data from international data agencies with the mandate, resources and expertise to collect national data on specific indicators…the reports composite indices and other statistical resources draw on a wide variety of the most respected international data providers,” said a UNDP communications official in Phnom Penh, who asked that his name not be used as he is not authorized to speak on behalf of his organization.

According to UNDP, Gallup was one of the international data providers whose findings on Cambodia—such as trust in the government and satisfaction with the education system—were used in the report.

Lauren Kannry, Gallup’s director of public relations at the company’s headquarters in Washington, referred questions about the research conducted in Cambodia to their Asia Director Nicole Naurath in Bangkok.

Ms. Naurath said that Gallup outsourced its research in Cambodia to a local partner, which is a common practice for countries where Gallup does not operate its own offices, she said. Ms. Naurath, however, could not provide any information on Gallup’s partner in Cambodia, but said that the local researcher conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,000 participants aged 15-years and older, both from rural and urban areas.

“As a practice, we do not disclose our local partner’s names,” she said.

The UNDP in Cambodia also did not respond to questions regarding Gallup’s outsourced research in Cambodia, referring questions instead to the Human Development Report’s communications officer in New York, Eleonore Fournier-Tombs.

Ms. Fournier-Tombs responded to questions about the Cambodia data by providing a link to the UNDP report’s website, where no information can be found on Gallup’s local research partner or the methodology used in Cambodia.

Ms. Fournier-Tombs also did not reply when asked if the UNDP has any knowledge of who conducted the research in Cambodia.

Gallup, which publishes a “World Poll” each year to measure people’s attitudes on a range of subjects, released data in April on different nationalities who felt their lives were “thriving.”

Based on surveys of people in 146 countries in 2011, Gallup found the percentage of people “rating their current and future lives positively enough to be considered thriving ranged from a high of 74 percent in Denmark to a low of 2 percent in Cambodia.

Also at the bottom of the Gallup survey were the people of Laos, where only 3 percent said their lives were thriving, while Rwanda scored marginally higher, with 9 percent of people reporting a thriving life to Gallup.

“In Asia, where a median of 20 percent were thriving across the countries surveyed, there were large gaps between developed and developing Asian countries. Thriving was higher than 60 percent in Australia (64 percent) and New Zealand (60 percent) and as low as 2 percent Cambodia,” according to Gallup.

“Gallup’s global wellbeing data continue to emphasize the diverse development challenges worldwide and reveal the wellbeing situation has not changed much for many,” Gallup said in a statement accompanying the data.

“This underscores why it is important for leaders to pay attention to behavioral metrics such as wellbeing. Significant investments in this area could potentially pay huge dividends—not the least of which are peace and stability,” Gallup added.

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