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Economic Poverty and Happiness in Rural Ecuador: the Importance of Buen Vivir (Living Well)

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Abstract

This research paper addresses the endemic dimensions of having or not having a good life using a concept of poverty based on self-reported subjective well-being. We build a subjective well-being poverty (SWBP) line and compare it with two income poverty (IP) lines. The endemic dimension comes from rural Ecuador and the indigenous happiness idea of Buen Vivir (Living Well), which has been the focus of growing attention in the scientific and the political arena. Discrepancies between SWBP and IP are deeply explored building models that explain SWBP with IP, as well as control variables and Buen Vivir related variables. We show that income poor households are more likely to be poor in terms of their reported subjective well-being. However, households that grow their own food and are in an indigenous community are less likely to report to be subjective well-being poor. The results suggest that low SWBP values in contrast with high IP may be explained by idiosyncratic components of the Buen Vivir philosophy. The components of the Buen Vivir ethos related to SWBP give rise to the idea of building multidimensional concepts of poverty based on what ethnic people consider to be good or bad for their specific way of life. In a general context, our study raises the importance of considering poverty and its dimensions taking into account the endemic factors of specific groups of people and cultures. That is, to take into account what is important for their lives.

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Notes

  1. Normally happiness and SWB have been used synonymously, and subsequently different kinds of happiness are distinguished, such as evaluation of life, emotional and hedonic experience. In this research paper, we use a satisfaction indicator, which is more attuned to the cognitive evaluation of people’s lives (Kahneman et al. 1999). Despite these differences, for reasons of clarity, happiness, SWB and satisfaction with life are considered to be synonymous.

  2. There is also the subjective poverty approach, different to the SWBP. The subjective poverty approach is based in asking people if they see themselves as poor (e.g. Ravallion 2012; Ravallion et al. 2013) using a series of questions that enable people to position themselves on a ladder. Those questions are similar to this one: “Imagine a 6-step ladder where on the bottom, the first step, stand the poorest people, and the highest step, the sixth, stand the rich. On which step are you today?” The lower down they place themselves, the stronger their self-perception is of being poor, the higher up, the greater their self-perception is of being rich

  3. Recently, multidimensional poverty lines have received increasing attention in scientific circles and in the political arena. Examples are the At Risk of Poverty and/or Exclusion (AROPE) indicator used by the European Union, as well as the Human Poverty Index (HPI) and the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), both elaborated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). These kinds of indicators typically comprise a value judgment of several dimensions of what people need to have a good life, comprising their achievement on different dimensions of their life.

  4. These systems are based on ethical, cultural, historical and environmental values that form institutional norms that enable people to lead a satisfactory life, as people from these communities understand it. Some examples are “minka”, “ranti-ranti”, “makimañachina”, “makipurarina”, “uyanza”, “chukchina”, “uniguilla”, among others. In the “minka”, everyone works collectively for the benefit of their whole community or for one of its members; the “pampamesa” are places where all people share food sitting on the ground. For further information see De la Torre and Sandoval Peralta (2004) and Acosta (2012:187–192).

  5. The concept became a worldwide phenomenon, particularly in Latin American in the early 2000s, and was subsequently incorporated into the constitutions of Ecuador (2008) and Bolivia ( 2009). It is well documented, most of it in Spanish, and has emerged as a post-development concept with a strong influence in the Iberoamerican region.

  6. The International Poverty Centre edited a brochure that aiming to define poverty, and some of the invited researchers referred to poverty as a lack of wellbeing (IPC 2006). Specifically, in this brochure Robert Chambers assesses development as going from a situation of ill-being to one of well-being.

  7. There is research that has tested this using vignettes, namely, by asking an individual to evaluate the satisfaction of people involved in certain situations and see if the individual reports higher than expected values. Then it can be checked if they are overevaluating because of their deprived situation. For instance, Bertoni (2015) uses vignettes to show that elderly people that experienced hunger as children show higher than expected life satisfaction. He interprets that extreme deprivation leads people to develop lower aspirations as to their level of achievements in life so that they can consider their life to be satisfying. Vignettes are also used to calibrate subjective poverty lines (e.g. Ravallion et al. 2013)

  8. In a cross-section sample from Granada (Spain), Suárez-Varela et al. (2014) show that concern about the environment and voluntary work actions to preserve it are relevant for SWB (when both coincide, the greater the influence). Accordingly, Meier and Stutzer (2008) use panel data from Germany to prove that volunteering increases happiness, but they do not make a distinction between environmental and other kinds of volunteering, focusing their conclusions on the value of helping others. Using OECD country household data from different years, Di Tella and MacCulloch (2008) find that SWB is negatively affected by environmental degradation. Urban air pollution is also found to affect SWB with cross-national data from 54 countries and Welsch (2002) identifies a negative impact of urban air on SWB. Concern may also negatively influence SWB when it refers to negative environmental features such as concern about urban air pollution (Welsch 2002; Ferrer-i-Carbonell and Gowdy 2007), and noise levels (van Praag and Baarsma 2005; Rehdanz and Maddison 2008). Green lifestyles are related to SWB according to an analysis using a British panel data (Binder and Blankenberg 2017).

  9. UBN is a multidimensional poverty measure developed by the Ecuadorian government (see ENEMDU 2013). These figures are similar to those from other rural areas in Ecuador. According to the latest figures (ENEMDU 2013), 38.7% of the population in the country were living in poverty by UBN. The differences between rural and urban areas are especially high. In rural areas, poverty reached 65.7%, while in urban areas it stood at 25.7%. Since 2008, these percentages have fallen. In rural areas, the figure fell by 11.7 percentage points, and in urban areas, by 5.8 percentage points.

  10. This is calculated by dividing the income of the household by the number of household members.

  11. In fact, there is an important political discussion in Ecuador about the exploitation of natural resources or not. Indigenous associations are opposed to it because of their interest in preserving the natural habitat, while the Ecuadorian government is against, arguing that it will generate jobs and increasing income (Acosta 2011; Guardiola and García-Quero 2014; Gudynas and Alayza 2012).

  12. Due to data representativeness we could only design a particular specification for the threshold value of SWBP, taking as a threshold instead of, for instance 2. This is because a high proportion of the sample is very satisfied or satisfied, and not many reported to be dissatisfied with life. If we consider 3 not to be SWBP, then people being SWBP would decrease from 103 to 19, which is a too low representation for estimation purposes. Given that most people are satisfied or very satisfied with life in the reality under study, we could also consider that being neither satisfied nor satisfied could be considered as not doing very well in terms of life achievement.

  13. The different spaces were defined by previous work in assemblies that was part of the design of the questionnaire. These are defined as parish and irrigation boards, district councils, farming organizations, drinking water boards, sports associations and the church.

  14. Specifically, the individuals were asked: ‘Can you name three areas that concern you?’

  15. The four sectors under consideration (Shiña, Morasloma, Chunazana and Puca) are in the Nabón district and have a total of 5.444 inhabitants divided among 15 indigenous communities (35% of the Nabón population).

  16. From Table 4 the marginal probability of sovereignty in model 2b is −0.23, and multiplied by 0.5 equals to −0.11 which is greater than the marginal probability of IP$1.25, that equals 0.0742.

  17. The human needs theory, in fact, suggests that there are many ways to have a good life that go beyond the use of income. They consider that those ways, called satisfiers, are cultural specific. See for example Max-Neef (1991) and Guillen-Royo (2016).

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Institute of Population and Local Sustainable Development (PYDLOS by the Spanish acronym) at Universidad de Cuenca, Ecuador, for assistance and access to the database. Financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Economics and Competitiveness (Project ECO2012-32189) and the Government of Andalucía (Project P11-SEJ-7039 and Project P12-SEJ-1436) is also acknowledged. The authors would also like to thank useful comments from Mariano Rojas, Mònica Guillén Royo, Martin Binder. The comments made by four anonymous referees and the editor of the Journal are also appreciated. Usual disclaimer applies. In addition, the first author would like to thank the Latin American Centre (LAC) at the University of Oxford for its support during the review process that took place during his research stay in the centre. A particular thanks to Dr. Diego Sánchez-Ancochea, director of LAC for his hospitality.

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García-Quero, F., Guardiola, J. Economic Poverty and Happiness in Rural Ecuador: the Importance of Buen Vivir (Living Well). Applied Research Quality Life 13, 909–926 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-017-9566-z

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