Economic growth alone does not improve well-being, UNDP says

May 21, 2015

The report will focus on what pushes people up the economic ladder, into the middle class and what prevents them from sliding back into poverty. Photo: César Avilés / UNDP El Salvador

While two thirds of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean are poor and vulnerable, only one in three is "worried about money"


Quito, May 21, 2015 – People’s well-being means much more than "living below or above the poverty line", according to 30 experts, government and parliament officials from 10 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean gathered today in Quito at a seminar on “well-being measurements" sponsored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Ecuador.

The analysis, discussions and examples of how countries are already adopting new ways to measure progress will be used in UNDP’s next Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean 2016 "Multidimensional Progress: Well-being beyond income". The report will focus on what pushes people up the economic ladder, into the middle class and what prevents them from sliding back into poverty. UNDP’s studies show that people’s and households’ "capabilities and assets", such as the level of education, owning a home, access to social protection, and other "cushions" are crucial to prevent people from falling into poverty.

"It is crucial to redefine the very idea of ​​progress; what it means to live well and how people perceive the transformations in our societies, since income alone doesn’t give us the full picture," said UN Assistant-Secretary General and UNDP Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Jessica Faieta. "It is also essential to focus on exclusion, discrimination and vulnerabilities that still limit people’s opportunities: public policies in the region must reflect that."

"When we speak of ‘well-being’ and ‘living a good life’ I think of enhancing each Ecuadorian’s capacity, while improving and expanding their access to basic services," said Cecilia Vaca Jones, Minister Coordinator of Social Development of Ecuador, "And people’s testimonies are crucial to better understand, address and meet their diverse needs at the local level."

Perceptions of well-being – UNDP analysed and released today 2013-2014 Gallup survey data that gives an insight into well-being perceptions in Latin American and Caribbean.

Most people (71 per cent) said they were as satisfied with their standard of living, all the things they can buy and do, as people in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, known as the rich countries’ club).

People in Latin American and Caribbean are also the most satisfied with their routines: 49 per cent of people said they "strongly agreed" with the expression "you like what you do every day," compared with 38 per cent in North America, 37 per cent in the Nordic countries and 20 per cent in East Asia.

Moreover, in Latin America and the Caribbean, older or less educated people are more likely to show higher levels of concern. While 44 per cent of the total population said they felt “worried yesterday”, this proportion jumped to 50 per cent for those aged 50 or more, while the rate for those with eight years or less of formal education rose to 49 per cent.

Perceptions also differ between women and men. The survey revealed that in Latin America and the Caribbean a higher proportion of women (46 per cent) than men (41 per cent) felt “worried yesterday ”, and women were slightly more “worried about money” (33 per cent) than men (29 per cent). In addition, more women (27 per cent) than men (17 per cent) reported having felt sadness during a lot of the day before being surveyed.

About one third (31 per cent) of Latin Americans expressed concern about money. The 20 per cent poorest population were also most “worried about money” (39 per cent). Also, interviewees in the age group 30 to 49 were the most anxious about financial issues (35 per cent).

"It is interesting to note that a third of the population in the region claims to experience ‘money worries’, even though two thirds are poor and vulnerable (25 per cent live on less than US$4/day and 38 per cent live just above the poverty line earning $4-10/day, totalling 68 per cent according to UNDP),"said UNDP’s chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean George Gray Molina. "Material progress and perceptions of well-being don’t often coincide; that’s why we are here in Quito, listening to experiences on alternative notions and measurements of well-being, such as those from Bolivia and Ecuador."

In the coming weeks the report’s team will visit other countries in the region to gather testimonies from various social groups on what it means to live a ‘good life’, how these perceptions change within the same region, among different countries, territories, communities, families and individuals. The Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean 2016 will also use the collected data for policy recommendations.

Information contact

In New York: Carolina Azevedo,; Tel: +1 212 906 6127

In Quito: Jose Martino,; Tel +593 2460330 Ext. 2209

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