A running survey about "well-being" suggests that non-economic factors may be driving the turmoil in Egypt and Tunisia. The well-being metric in both countries has plummeted in the past few years, according to recent Gallup polling.
The proportion of Egyptians who identified themselves as "thriving" has fallen by more than half, from 25 percent in 2007 to just 11 percent last year. Tunisians reported a similar drop in satisfaction, with the share of those who were "thriving" plunging from 24 percent in 2008 to 14 percent in 2010.
The declines in well-being came despite steady national increases in GDP per capita, which has long been considered a valuable, though imperfect, proxy for well-being.
Over the past five years, per capita income in both Egypt and Tunisia rose by roughly a third. Yet in Tunisia, all income groups reported a decline in well-being since 2008. The same happened in Egypt since 2005, with only the richest 20 percent reporting that their sense of well-being had increased.
"Gallup's global wellbeing metrics make clear that leaders cannot assume that the lives of those in their countries would improve in tandem with rising GDP," the firm said in a posting on its website.
Egyptian mass protests have forced the nation's long-time autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, to sack his government and announce plans to step down after elections this fall. A similar uprising last month forced Tunisia's President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power.
The annual survey uses the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, which asks people to rank their quality of life on a scale of one to 10 today and where they expect it to be five years from now. The sample size ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 adults in each country.
The surveys found wide variation in well-being among Middle Eastern nations. Egypt and Tunisia were both near the bottom, but Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, the Palestinian Territories, and Libya all had fewer than 15 percent of adults who thought of themselves as "thriving." Countries such as Saudi Arabia (43 percent) and Jordan (30 percent) fared better.