Ponarin, jointly with Ronald Inglehart and Roberto Foa, presented the findings of a study to participants of the ‘Continuing Grushin’, the Third International Sociology Conference co-organized by VTSIOM, Glas Naroda and the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
After the USSR collapsed, the standard of living in Russia declined dramatically, and a significant drop in subjective well-being was observed. 'The decline of happiness in Russia in the 1990s was a unique phenomenon ona scale seen nowhere else in the world', says Edouard Ponarin. He adds that the levels of subjective well-being in Russia are comparable to the country's per capita GDP dynamics.
Evidentlyone’s material wealth directly correlates with one’s level of happiness. Ponarin notes that in poor countries, a small increase in material well-being causes a significant rise in happiness (subjective well-being). 'But further increases of material wealth produce only a minor change in subjective well-being. Once basic needs are met, other needs come to the fore', explains Ponarin.
The authors proceed from Ronald Inglehart's theory onthe stages of modernization. The development of productive forces causes people to feel like they have control over nature and to shift from traditional religious values to secular and rational values. This transition triggers the process of 'industrialization', which in turn leads to further economic growth and advances in the human condition. Survival values then recede to the background. According to Ponarin, survival values may also be described as greed and suspicion: 'Greed because every penny increases the chances of survival, and suspicion because you do not know what strangers are up to and thus fear them. When younger generations, who are free from such fears,emerge,the value of self-expression comes to the fore'.
In terms of Inglehart's theory, Russia is a unique case. 'It is a fairly secular country; its secularity is at about the same level as that of Northern Europe', says Ponarin.
Graph 1. The Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World
Source: Edouard Ponarin's presentation
However, in terms of survival values, Russia is almost at the 'greed and suspicion' extreme, according to Ponarin. 'The observations have been conducted over a long time, so we can see a global trend, ie a shift from survival to self-expression, in line with Inglehart's theory'. Studies show that most countries of the civilized world are moving towards self-expression values and secular-rational values, ie people feel more in control of their environment and feel the need to express themselves. Russia, however, is moving in the opposite direction in both aspects.
Graph 2. Value Shifts
Source: Edouard Ponarin's presentation
'In post-communist European countries, we see a minor shift away from secular-rational values, since the socialist ideology has been partly replaced by religion. Post-communist Europe, however, is moving towards self-expression values, while in Russia we are moving in the opposite direction', Ponarin says.
Comparing Russia with post-communist Europe, the difference is that people in post-Soviet Europe have freedom of choice, which may also impact their subjective well-being. The researchers compared data for Russia and Hungary, which also experienced a significant drop in subjective well-being following the collapse of the socialist system. However, the decline was not as severe as in Russia. According to Ponarin, the difference may be partly due to subjective reasons. 'Like many other nations, Hungarians could point to Russiaand say that their problems were linked to the Soviet Union; but very soon Hungary would be better off, because it was about to join afamily of civilized nations'. The latter circumstance, Ponarin argues, is the reason why Hungarians have more freedom of choice than Russians, no matter what problems Hungary may currently be facing.
The collapse of the USSR permanently lowered the level of happiness in older generations of (Soviet) Russians. Middle-aged Russians were also strongly affected by the crisis and the collapse of the socialist system. As for the younger generation, its happiness is growing in proportion to economic growth. In Inglehart's theory, that is consistent with the values of early industrialization, when basic needs are being met. The values of self-expression have yet to wait for their turn. to get their turn.