This paper investigates the impact of social, economic and institutional changes on individual perceptions of happiness in Kazakhstan. It is part of a recent literature on determining factors explaining perceptions of happiness in the world. It is an original research and of interest for researchers as well as donors and policy-makers in Central Asia. It is, first, worth noting that, based on World Values Surveys data, citizens in countries in transition, despite a small improvement in the last years, are much less happy than citizens living in developing countries (10% felt very happy in 2005 in countries in transition compared to 33% in developing countries). 85% of surveyed people felt that they were happier 20 years ago compared to now. However, the authors are cautious on a Soviet nostalgia since 90% of surveyed people think that the reforms were good for Kazakhstan. The authors found out that, all other things being equal, ethnic Kazakhs are increasingly happier than Russians as transition matured. Contrary to expectations, citizens living in regions with a high share of unemployment are as happy as citizens living in low unemployment regions. This can be related to the literature in this field, which points out the fact that inequality is a strong determining factor of unhappiness. Therefore, as long as unemployment is widespread but the share of well-off people is marginal, happiness of individuals is usually higher than expected. Like the authors conclude, this type of study is important, especially when proposed reforms increase income inequality, which has a strong negative impact on individual happiness. Indeed, due to the Soviet past, it seems that citizens in Central Asia (and countries in transition in general) perceive income inequality as a major factor limiting individual happiness.

Gaël Raballand, Observatory of Post-Soviet States, Paris
CER: II-7.4.C-647