Staunton, September 15 – Nearly half of all Russians feel they are dysfunctional in some way as a result of the problems they face in their lives rather than because of poverty, Svetlana Mareyeva says; and that means that increasing their incomes will do little or nothing to affect how they feel.
Her conclusions are presented on the basis of research in “Zones of Subjective Well-Being and Non-Well-Being in Russian Society” (in Russian), Journal of Sociology 18: 4 (2018): 695-707 at publications.hse.ru/mirror/pubs/share/direct/228379190; summarized by Svetlana Saltanova at iq.hse.ru/news/306926923.html.
The level of well-being various Russians feel is based on the basis of a clustering of their assessments of various aspects of life, including level of income, availability of food, quality of housing, dress, recreation, education, self-realization, medical care, social ties, and political freedoms, the sociologist says.
Using this approach, Matveyeva says, 41 percent of the Russian population feels itself to be in something less than a well-off position, 24 percent feel themselves to be well-off, and 35 percent are in between. Those in between, she says, are those who feel relatively well-off in most categories.
Those who feel less than in a state of well-being “assess their lives on the whole in a neutral way, with 83 percent saying that it is more or less satisfactory and 15 percent saying it is bad. Fifty-three percent of them point to low incomes, 60 percent to problems with recreation, and 66 percent to difficulties in getting medical care.
People from rural areas, older age groups and involved in physical labor dominate this group. Their average age is 45.
Those who feel themselves well off are the smallest of the three groups – only 24 percent – but their assessments are significantly more positive on all measures. They express the highest negatives about vacations and getting adequate medical care. Their average age is 39, they mostly live in cities, and have higher educations.
Those who feel themselves to be not well off often face problems and doubt their capacity to solve them on their own. “Only 35 percent believe that the individual makes his own fate,” while 65 percent think outcomes are determined by external circumstances rather than personal effort. Among those well-off, these figures are reversed, 77 percent to 23 percent.
But what is striking, Mareyeva says, is that people of all income levels are found in all three groups, with some relatively financially well-off people among those with a negative self-assessment of how well off they are and some relatively poor people among those with a more positive one.
It isn’t income alone that matters, the sociologist says, but how individuals view the relationship between their incomes and their needs and aspirations. Consequently, raising incomes alone will not by itself overcome the divide between those who feel positive about tehir lives and those who don’t.
That is something the government must recognize and not assume that raising incomes will solve all the problems Russians and it now face.