The stricter the lockdown, the greater the happiness loss: A country comparison

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments have implemented lockdown regulations to curb the spread of the virus. Though lockdowns do minimise the physical damage of the virus, there are substantial damage to populations happiness, well-being and livelihoods.

Researchers studying three very diverse countries (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia), regarding their economies, political situation and demographic factors, as well as the strictness of their lockdown regulations found: i) that lockdown regulations are the direct cause of lower levels of happiness during the pandemic (the researchers used Difference-in-Difference econometric modelling strategies), thus even considering the diversity of countries and -lockdown regulations, a lockdown, decreases happiness and wellbeing; ii) the stricter the lockdown regulations, the greater the happiness loss.

The graphs (below) compares the happiness losses in each of the three countries. In each of the graphs the happiness levels of the specific country, for 2020, is compared to that of 2019. As can be seen: all three the countries suffered happiness losses, but the loss by South Africa, which has the strictest lockdown regulations (also considering the Government Response Stringency Indices[1],) is by far the greatest. The average happiness loss, considering all three countries, was at least 6 per cent (on 10 June 2020), due to the lockdown. However, the loss in South Africa was greater than in the other countries.

Happiness lost due to lockdowns: a comparison between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa


These are the results of Prof Talita Greyling (University of Johannesburg) and Dr Stephanie Rossouw (Auckland University of Technology) who in collaboration with Afstereo launched South Africa’s Happiness Index in April 2019 based on tweets extracted from the social media platform Twitter (see www.

As mentioned, the three countries selected in this study are very diverse: New Zealand, is an island economy with a relatively small population of 5.5 million people, had an average happiness level for 2020 of 7.14[2] and the economic outlook was positive. The annual GDP growth rate in the year to December 2019 was 2.3 per cent, the unemployment rate was relatively low at 4.2 per cent (Statistics New Zealand 2020) and the debt as a percentage of GDP was 25 per cent. They had 22, out of a population of 5.5 million, Covid related deaths.

Australia, with a significantly larger population of 25.5 million, had an average happiness score of 7.09. Their annual GDP growth rate in the year to December 2019 was 1.9 per cent, the unemployment rate was 6.2 per cent and debt as a percentage of GDP was 41.73 per cent (Australia Bureau of Statistics 2020). They had 104, out of a population of 25.5 million, Covid related deaths.

South Africa, on the other hand, with the largest population out of the three countries, with 57.7 million people had a lower average happiness score of 6.32. The economic outlook is bleak and is predicted to contract at 7 per cent in 2020, debt as a percentage of GDP is predicted to be 81.8 percent by the end of 2020 and the unemployment rate is significantly higher than in the other countries at 30.1 per cent for the first three months of 2020 (Statistics South Africa 2020). They had 2413, out of a population of 57.7 million, Covid related deaths.

In addition to the above, all three countries had different responses to curbing the spread of Covid-19. South Africa and New Zealand both have/had very strict lockdown regulations. During South Africa’s level 5 lockdown people were not allowed to leave their homes, only for essential reasons and were instructed to work from home. The same regulations held for New Zealanders; however, New Zealanders were allowed to buy alcohol and tobacco and exercise was permitted outside their homes. Currently South Africa has progressed to level 3, slightly relaxing the lockdown measures, whereas New Zealand has progressed to level 1, with no restrictions except on international travel. At the other end of the spectrum, Australia, which follows a Federal system of government, never went into complete lockdown, such as that implemented by both New Zealand and South Africa.

Considering these facts, it is interesting to find that the country with the bleakest economic outlook and the lowest levels of happiness and wellbeing, considering the three countries researched, persists in enforcing severe lockdown measures, notwithstanding the happiness and economic costs of the lockdown regulations.

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