Where in the World is Suffering Extreme?


GA map of life index suffering 2013  950px

Gallup World Poll metrics reveal the worst pockets of global suffering. On the map above, the darker the nation’s color, the worse the suffering, and the countries in faint color had the least suffering. The map highlights that the most extreme suffering on the globe in 2013 occurred in three geographic regions: Africa, the Middle East, and Southeastern Europe. If you look closely, you can see exceptions to this rule, e.g., Libya, Oman, and Poland.

The metric represented by this map is Gallup’s Suffering Index, the “suffering” component of their “Life Evaluation Index.” The Gallup World Poll constructs this metric by first asking all 1.25 million people interviewed in the past 9 years to rate their current life satisfaction and their expected 5-year future satisfaction. Those that rate both their present and future satisfactions as extremely low are considered “suffering” by Gallup. A country’s suffering score is the percent of its people in this state of extreme suffering. Here is a list of the 10 countries with the greatest share of the adults who were in a state of suffering:

WORST 10 %-Suffering
Afghanistan 55%
Bulgaria 41%
Armenia 36%
Turkey 35%
Egypt 34%
Greece 32%
Cambodia 32%
Haiti 32%
Madagascar 30%

Note that some countries, e.g., Turkey and Egypt, with high levels of suffering also have relatively high-income levels compared to poorer countries like Haiti and Madagascar. This clearly indicates that suffering is a matter of expectations for wealth and other aspects of quality of life. Countries like Greece have had difficulty in their economies in recent years. Other countries like Afghanistan and Haiti have had more than their share of violent conflict

Countries with Rapid Growth in Suffering

In order to analyze the dynamics of suffering related to rapid social change, first the countries with the sharpest rise or fall in percent suffering were identified. From these rapidly changing nations, several countries were selected for the next two charts to represent those countries with the most rapid rise or decline during the past 9 years. In the next chart, the trend lines of extreme suffering from 2006 to 2013 are shown for the three countries with the fastest rising suffering, which are Afghanistan, Greece and India. The chart also shows the average Suffering Index values for the world.

Fig1 for rising world suffering

Afghanistan was not only the nation with the fastest rising suffering between 2012 and 2014 but at 55% it had the most suffering of any other country. Afghanistan’s sharpest rise in suffering during 2012 and 2013 coincides with both a rise in tension with US and Allied forces and a resurgence of the Taliban.

The economic and political troubles of Greece have been widely publicized and the rise in suffering of the populace seems consistent with these serious challenges internal to the country.

The steady rise of suffering in India is more difficult to understand. India’s economic growth has been remarkable and almost as rapid as China’s. Life expectancy has doubled. Yet poverty remains very high and the rate of migration from rural to urban area appears to be the highest in the world. A system of rigid social strata, combined with corrupt public officials who provide favors to those that can pay, may account for disillusionment and rising suffering among a majority of the people.

Countries with a Large Decline in Suffering

Higher levels of extreme suffering indicate serious problems of   both wellbeing and quality of life. Negative life quality tends to be associated with inhumane living conditions, which challenges humanitarian relief organizations and others trying to prevent or alleviate misery and suffering. The countries shown in the following chart, Zimbabwe, China, and Paraguay all realized a substantial reduction in suffering.

fig2 from rising world suffering article

Zimbabwe had the steepest drop in suffering in the past 9 years. Having come through several decades of severe hardship and oppression, political reforms have made life easier to bear. The steepest drop in suffering occurred between 2007 and 2010, but suffering has been going back up since 2012.

China’s GDP per capita is roughly $12,000, and while income inequality is high, life in the cities has changed radically during this Century. For example, city transportation in the cities basically has changed from bicycles to motorized transportation. A steady decline in suffering is conceivable in this era of rapid social change.

Paraguay, despite its relatively low average income, in the early part of this Century successfully implemented a health and health insurance and maintains a widely accessible educational system. Its volatile politics are partly reflected in its suffering trend line, but the dominant trend seems to be an improving level of social wellbeing.

Suffering and social wellbeing vary from day to day and year to year. As suffering results from societal challenges like poverty, violence, and intolerance, we can expect suffering to be increasing across years in some countries but decreasing in other nations. Neither suffering nor other major indicators of the quality of life in societies remain stagnate, although in most affluent countries the level of subjective suffering and related aspects of the quality of life tend to remain fairly constant.

Extreme suffering will predominate in countries ravaged by civil war and those with a large number of its citizens trapped in impoverished living conditions.

Gallup World Poll Data. The charts above capture findings from 1,250,000 interviews in 150 countries representing 98% of the world population across the past eight years. In each year and each country a minimum of 1,000 randomly selected adults are interviewed for the Gallup World Poll. Interviews are conducted in respondent’s native language in person or by phone. For this article, the data were retrieved through the Gallup Analytics portal. More details can be obtained from the Poll’s Methodology Report.
Gallup’s “Suffering Index” is based upon a series of questions that measure respondents’ perceptions of where they stand, now and in the future. Individuals who rate their current lives as an average of “4” or lower are defined as ‘suffering.’ All other individuals are considered ‘not suffering.’ Their objective with this index is to identify persons with such extreme dissatisfaction with their lives that they, in fact, are suffering.



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