March 06, 2014
The MasterCard Index of Well-Being for Women is a new index based on a survey comprising 16 Asia/Pacific markets that will be conducted bi-annually. Launched in January 2014, the Index aims to provide an in-depth measure of the level of well-being among nations in Asia/Pacific by examining the impact of wide-ranging factors such as work-life balance, cybercrime and disease outbreak on female respondents. Overall, the research reflects their attitudes toward five categories: "Work and Finances," "Safety from Threats," "Personal and Work Satisfaction," "Personal Well-Being" and "Sense of Empowerment."
The spread of the overall Women's Well-Being Index values across the 16 Asia/Pacific markets shows all of them above the neutral (50 point) mark with Myanmar (70.9) and Indonesia (70.0) taking the leading positions and Japan (53.6) and South Korea (54.9) at the lowest spectrum, against the regional average of 62.7. There is marked inter-market divergence between the seven Developed Markets (average of 58.8) and the nine Emerging Markets (average of 65.7), as well as intra-market divergences within the Emerging-Developed Markets brackets. The charts below illustrate this difference.
The Developed Markets chart below reveal that with the exception of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia are above the Developed Market average of 58.8. With an overall Well-Being Index score of 66.5, Hong Kong has a clear lead compared to the other six countries in the Developed Market region, while Japan (53.6) has the lowest score.
Among the Emerging Markets illustrated below, Malaysia (58.0) and Bangladesh (55.3) are the only two markets with scores below the Emerging Market average of 65.7. Myanmar (70.9) and Indonesia (70.0) have the highest and healthiest overall Well-Being Index scores; followed by the Philippines and India at 69.2 and 69.1, respectively.
Prima facie, the Developed-Emerging Market dichotomy seems to suggest that a higher standard of living may not necessarily translate to a higher sense of well-being due the interplay of other factors and influences such as cultural and psychological. In the following sections, we will examine the component breakdown to discover key elements of divergence between the Developed and Emerging Markets.
At the component level, Developed Asia/Pacific has a higher score in only one component, and it is barely higher at that (Safety from Threats, 57.0 versus 55.1 for Emerging Markets). The components of "Work and Finances," "Satisfaction" and "Personal Well-Being" stand out the most in terms of differential between the Developed and Emerging Markets of Asia/Pacific.
At the "Work and Finances" component level, Emerging Markets are clearly more optimistic about the six months looking ahead and prospective sub-components of "Regular Income" and "Employment" than the Developed Markets which are evidently dismal at least for this survey wave (scores of 82.9 for Emerging versus 56.5 for developed). With a score of 42.3, it is evident that the majority of women in Developed Markets do not expect their income levels to increase over the next six months. In comparison, the score for women in the Emerging Markets is much stronger at 74.3, reflecting a high level of optimism with regards to income levels. This is scarcely balanced out by the "Keeping up with Bills" and "Saving for Big Purchases" sub-components which the Developed Markets are more in control of -- most likely due to greater affordability offered through higher income levels for dealing with big ticket consumption and day to day budgeting.
Another reason for the large variance between the Developed-Emerging Markets may be due to "Regular Income" and "Employment" being more aligned to economic growth prospects -- an aspect over which Emerging Markets have a clear advantage (using the October 2013 IMF WEO forecasts of GDP per Capita between 2014 and 2018, the seven Developed Markets have an average compound annual average real growth rate of 3.2% while that of the nine Emerging Markets is much higher at 5.1%).
Work and Finances: Gender Comparison
The results for male respondents in relation to "Work and Finances" are quite similar to the scores for the female cohort with men in Developed Markets expressing more control over bill payments (77.3) and saving for big purchases (62.8). The outlook on employment prospects among men in developed countries is poor (50.6), but still less pessimistic than their female counterparts (42.3). In terms of "Saving for Big Purchases," women in both Developed and Emerging Markets show slightly higher control than men.
With the exception of "Cyber Crime" and "Natural Disaster/Pollution," it is surprising that the Developed Markets do not have a markedly higher overall score (57.0) relative to Emerging Markets (55.1). In fact, the survey revealed that the score for Developed Markets in "Disease Outbreak" was only marginally higher than that for Emerging Markets (61.6 versus 60.1). For the sub-components of "Violent Crime" and "Financial Crime," the scores were noticeably higher in the Developed Markets (59.2 and 57.4) than in the Emerging Markets (52.2 and 50.0). It is also apparent that the perception of safety from threats of violent and financial crimes by female respondents in Emerging Markets is a major concern.
Table 1 shows the World Bank's Governance 2012 Indicator "Rule of Law"1 for each of the countries with their regional averages at the bottom. The original scores have been indexed to 100 with 100 indicating the best possible rule of law and 0, total anarchy. The prevalence and enforcement of the rule of law should directly impact upon all the four sub-indicators (even natural disasters in terms of amelioration of their effects via effective preparation and responsiveness).
Given the wide gap between the market averages for "Rule of Law" (92.4 for Developed Markets versus 56.5 for Emerging Markets), one would expect this gap to be evident in the "Safety from Threats" component which is not apparent. One can only hypothesize that the interplay of a degree of human adaptive expectation may be prevalent here. For example, a historically low crime rate in a Developed Market breeds a baseline mindset of low crime expectations or that crime rates should be low. As such, exposure to crime through the media or by word of mouth may instigate a negativity bias perceiving crime rates to be on the rise or getting much worse than they really are, in turn generating a feeling of being more vulnerable to crime than is warranted.
In an Emerging Market however, where crime rates are actually higher than that in a Developed Market on average, expectation of crime is already high and socially internalized such that the same negative reports via the media or word of mouth do not impart as much negative bias towards vulnerability to threat as they would in a Developed Market. In other words if one accepts that crime rates are high and there is nothing to be done about it (owing to weak "Rule of Law"), then one would take whatever precautions necessary to avoid becoming a victim of crime and move on with life. What would impact such a person’s sense of vulnerability to crime upwards or downwards is a relative change in crime rates (and its reporting); that is, if crime rates are to spike or decrease outside the bounds of normalcy.
In a Developed Market where the expectation of crime rates is less, vulnerability to crime is more likely to increase as perception of it via reports increases. However, this is less likely to decrease from reports of the reverse (a decrease in crime rates) as one expects that crimes should have been low in the first place. Another way to see this is that a reported decrease in crime is interpreted as an improvement from the norm in Emerging Markets but only a return to normalcy in a Developed Market. This may go some way to explaining why the "Safety from Threats" gap between the Developed and Emerging Markets is much narrower than that revealed in the World Bank's "Rule of Law" gap.
Safety from Threats: Gender Comparison
A gender comparison of the perception of safety from threats between male and female respondents in the Developed and Emerging Markets reveals an interesting observation. While one would expect the male cohort in either markets to score higher given that females both young and old, will generally have greater fear of crimes and threats than men due to various factors such as vulnerability to aggressions and concern for their children (which fuels their fear); however, this is not the case. The results show that in both markets, the perception of safety from threats among male and female respondents is remarkably similar, effectively dispelling any misconception that males have a higher perception of safety from threats (and thus a higher score) than their female counterparts in either Developed or Emerging Markets.
For the male counterpart, the sub-components of "Violent Crime" (62.3) and "Financial Crime" (60.8) as illustrated in the chart below are notably higher than the female respondents in the Developed Markets as compared to that in the Emerging Markets (54.7 and 53.2, respectively), while the gaps for the other sub-components of "Cyber Crime," "Disease Outbreak" and "Natural Disaster/Pollution" are less pronounced.
1. Reflects perceptions of the extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society, and in particular the quality of contract enforcement, property rights, the police, and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence.
The "Satisfaction" component shows a wide gap between the Developed and Emerging Markets in favor of the latter (59.0 versus 69.9 respectively), implying that women in developed countries are not necessarily more satisfied with their lives as compared to women living in less-developed countries. The results also show that each of the sub-components exhibits an apparent gap between the two regional markets but it is widest at the "Present Life Situation" and "5 year Life Situation" sub-components. The analysis of the "5 year Life Situation" sub-component is one of future optimism and may be related to the economic growth prospects of which the Emerging Markets have the clear advantage (refer to earlier discussion on "Work and Finance"). The gap between the markets for "Present Life Situation" shows that a higher standard of living (higher GDP per capita and all that that entails) may not necessarily translate to a higher regard of one's present circumstance as has been suggested earlier.
Female respondents in the Emerging Markets are highly optimistic about their life situation prospects in the next five years (76.1), even more so than their regard of present life situation (66.5). However, women in Developed Markets perceive their "Present Life Situation" to be barely adequate (55.1). The results also show that females in Emerging Markets have higher satisfaction levels in terms of their "Work/Role in Life Situation" and "Work-Life Balance" (68.8 and 68.0) than those in the Developed Markets (57.6 for work and life and 60.2 for satisfaction in work/role).
Satisfaction in Life: Gender Comparison
The chart below shows the results of "Satisfaction" in life for the male respondents. The overall score for men is slightly higher than their female counterparts in Emerging Markets (71.4 male versus 69.9 for females) while in the Developed Markets, females scored marginally higher (59.0 versus 58.5 for males). In terms of the outlook for life in the next five years, male respondents were very optimistic (76.8 compared to 76.1 for females). Men in Developed Markets also exhibit low levels of satisfaction in terms of their perception of "Present Life Situation" (54.1)
Men in Emerging Markets have higher satisfaction levels in terms of their Work/Role in Life Situation and Work-Life Balance (71.0 and 69.8) than females. Similar to their female counterparts in the Developed Markets, men are also significantly challenged in striking a balance between work and life (58.1) and in their Work/Role in Life Satisfaction (59.8).
Richard Easterlin, a professor of economics at the University of Southern California, has posited that aspirations move up together with incomes and overtime, higher aspirations negate the effect of higher incomes.2 Plotting "Present Life Situation" scores for women against 2013 GDP per Capita in PPP$ (IMF WEO) as shown in the chart below highlights that there is some consistency with Easterlin's hypothesis. If satisfaction (i.e. happiness) increased with income, then the path of the dots should be largely aligned with the slope of the red line; but they do not. On a regional basis, the Emerging Markets are clearly sloping downwards which seems to suggest that as income levels rise, Present Life Satisfaction as perceived by women decreases. At the Developed Market level however, countries (with the exception of Japan) display a weakly positive relationship between Present Life Satisfaction and average income. Both of these observations are interesting and we would be keen to see if these patterns remain the same over future surveys.
"Work Life Balance" and "Work Satisfaction" sub-components also exhibit the Developed-Emerging Market gap but they are narrower than the other sub-components of "Present Life Situation" and "5 Year Life Situation Expectation". Continuing along the same line of reasoning, it is possible that as a market's development level increases (i.e. with concomitantly more laws and protection that are beneficial to labor), so does the expectations and aspirations of the market's labor force for more as well (i.e. more money, more opportunities, more parental leave and workplace benefits such as maternity leave, flexible work arrangements, etc.) which impinge negatively on work satisfaction.
2. Easterlin RA, McVey LA, Switek M, Sawangfa O, Zweig JS (2010) "The happiness-“income paradox revisited," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 107 No. 52.
The "Personal Well-Being" component has three components exhibiting substantial gaps between Developed-Emerging markets. Of these, Family-related stress is largest with a 16.5 point difference, followed by Health-related Stress (14.7) and Work-related Stress (13.7). The scores for women in Emerging Markets in terms of work and financial stress are high (72.7 and 71.0, respectively), while that for Family- and Health-related Stress are moderately healthy (63.5 and 62.4, respectively). In contrast, women in Developed Markets scored much worse: 47.0 for Stress at Home, 47.7 for Health-related Stress, and 59.0 for Stress in the Workplace. In terms of Financial-related stress, the scores in both Developed and Emerging Markets are comparatively low than Work, Family and Health-related Stress; this is reflected in the healthy scores of 66.2 (Developed) and 71.0 (Emerging).
Personal Well-Being: Gender Comparison
The results for male respondents are relatively similar to that of females with significant gaps between the Developed and Emerging markets pertaining to stress at home (14.1), in the Workplace (15.4), Health (12.4), and Financial (4.2). The scores for all sub-components in both key market regions for males are slightly higher than that for their female counterparts.
The alarmingly poor score among women in terms of Family Stress (47.0 compared to 51.4 for male) in Developed Markets may be accrued to the challenges of having to juggle multiple tasks, especially for women who are working. According to 2013 OECD Better Life Index, women -- working or not working -- spend longer hours in unpaid domestic work: 279 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring compared to men who spend 131 minutes per day doing unpaid work, translating to a difference of around 2.5 hours per day. While one would then expect men to perceive stress at home to be less, this is not the case as reflected in the low score of 51.4.
OECD's Better Life Index also highlighted that men undertake more hours of paid work compared to women but still scored better than their female counterparts in terms of "Work Stress" (59.3 male versus 59.0 female in Developed Markets, and 74.7 male versus 72.7 female in Emerging Markets).
The component of "Voice" is primarily aimed at gauging women's sense of self-esteem. In general, women's opinion is more highly regarded in Emerging Markets than in Developed Markets. In assessing the degree of influence/sense of empowerment in the workplace/school in terms of opportunities for career enhancement, career/educational path and how daily work is organized, women in Developed Markets scored poorly (56.5), while the score in Emerging Markets is much more robust at 69.1.
Given the big role women have played in the household, it is not surprising that the scores for women's opinion on non-financial decisions in the household in both Developed (68.4) and Emerging Markets (72.0) are the highest among all four sub-components.
The voice of women within the household in Emerging Markets for both financial (71.0) and non-financial decisions (72.0) carry more weight as compared to that in the Developed Markets (66.2 for financial decisions and 68.4 for non-financial decisions). The relatively healthy scores for financial decisions in both major markets underscore that women have started to come ahead in terms of making the call on money matters in the household, and are increasingly taking charge of traditional male household decisions.
Voice: Gender Comparison
The results show that the opinions of men and women in the household pertaining to financial and non-financial decisions in both Developed and Emerging Markets are quite similar: average scores of 64.3 for male versus 63.5 for female in Developed Markets, and 71.6 for men versus 70.6 for female in Emerging Markets. In terms of financial decisions, the score for male respondents in Developed Markets is only two points higher than their female counterparts (68.2 versus 66.2 for women), suggesting that women's influence on household financial matters is increasingly trending towards parity with men.
In terms of having a say on non-financial matters, women scored higher in Developed Markets (68.4 versus 66.5 for men) than in Emerging Markets.
It is noteworthy that neither men nor women in Developed Markets feel that they are empowered in the workplace, as reflected in the weak scores of 59.4 and 56.5 in favor of men. This observation is quite different from that made in the Emerging Markets where the scores for both men and women are quite healthy: 71.1 and 69.1 in favor of men. This could be due to the fact that the nature and pace of work in Developed Markets are much more competitive than in the Emerging Markets. Another possible explanation is that the drive and desire for empowerment is not as strong in the less Developed Markets.
The Well-Being Index scores for women in Myanmar (70.9, ranked first) and Indonesia (70.0, ranked second) are similar, with the former taking first spot among the 16 countries surveyed, followed by latter at second place. At the component level, women in Myanmar outperformed all their regional peers in terms of "Satisfaction in Life" (78.5), "Personal Well-Being" (79.4), and "Voice" (80.9, the highest component score in the survey and only component scoring over 80). Indonesian women outshined all their peers in terms of "Work & Finances" (72.8) and "Safety from Threats" (68.1), and did well in terms of "Personal Well-Being" (70.7, second highest).
Work & Finances
In terms of "Work & Finances," women in Myanmar and Indonesia show very positive outlook for their "Regular Income" and "Employment" prospects in the upcoming six months. In fact, nearly all female respondents from Myanmar expect their employment situation to be better (99.4, highest sub-component score in the survey). Given the OECD's medium-term economic growth forecast for Myanmar to be an average of 6.3% over 2013-173, the survey result affirms the positive correlation between economic and employment growth.
The high score (80.9, highest component score in the survey) among Burmese women in terms of "Voice" warrants deeper insight. As acknowledged by Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues (Embassy of Czech Republic) at a presentation in 2012 "The Role of Women in Burma,"4 younger Burmese women are highly optimistic and energized about their country's future, with the majority of them having started or are participating in NGOs advocating civic activism and social entrepreneurship. This younger cohort also demonstrate independence in their way of thinking and have become increasingly empowered in embracing their rights at home, the workplace, in community and political activities, or at the university. This high level of empowerment is also reflected in the survey result where the score for "Empowered at Work" is 85.2-- the only country scoring higher than 80, surpassing all other markets, and a clear lead ahead of India's second highest score of 75.0.
In terms of "Personal Well-Being," although most Burmese women note little to no financial strain, their ability to keep up with bills is very poor (23.6, lowest among the 16 markets surveyed). This is most likely attributed to their low levels of income (GDP per capita of $1,700, the lowest in the survey, IMF 2013).
The results demonstrate that women in Myanmar to be highly satisfied with their lives (78.5), especially in terms of their 5-year life situation (91.9, ahead of Philippines's second highest score of 83.1, and Indonesia at 70.7).
The weakest Well-Being component for Burmese women is "Safety from Threats" at 49.1, with "Violent Crime," "Cyber Crime" and "Financial Crime" being major concerns at 38.1, 46.3 and 39.1, respectively. The only sub-component that was acceptable was that for "Disease Outbreak" at 63.1, while that for "Natural Disaster/Pollution" was barely acceptable at 58.8.
3. "Getting rich before Growing Old: Jump-starting development in Myanmar ahead of population ageing," OECD Report, http://www.oecd.org/countries/myanmar/pressreleasemyanmar.htm
4. "The Role of Women in Burma," speech by Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, Washington, DC, May 25 2012, http://www.state.gov/s/gwi/rls/rem/2012/191300.htm
Drawing on the World Bank's Rule of Law Governance Indicators where Indonesia's score of 54.0 was below the Emerging Asia/Pacific Average of 56.5, it is surprising that women in Indonesia perceive their safety from threats and crimes so highly in the survey (score of 68.1, top in survey). We posit the underlying reason for this to be the same as that outlined earlier: that is, in an Emerging Market like Indonesia where crime rates are higher than a Developed Market on average, expectation of crime is already high and socially internalized such that negative reports through the media or word of mouth do not impart as much negative impact on vulnerability as they would in a Developed Market.
Indonesia also came in first place among the 16 markets for the component of "Work & Finances" (72.8), driven mostly by the very high scores of 91.4 and 80.6 for the forward-looking sub-components of "Regular Income" and "Employment," respectively. Indonesian women demonstrate much higher control over bill payments (65.4) compared with those in Myanmar (23.6), as well as their ability to save for big item purchases (54.0 versus 43.7 for Myanmar).
In general, the scores for the other four main components are quite similar and relatively healthy, ranging from the lowest score of 65.6 ("Financial Crime") to the highest score of 74.6 for "Work Stress." Indonesian women's ability to keep up with bills payment (65.4) is also reflected in their relatively low levels of financial stress experienced (69.0).
The Well-Being Index scores for women in the Philippines (69.2, ranked third) and India (69.1, ranked fourth) are both healthy, and are the closest among the 16 countries.
Work & Finances
With the exception of the "Work & Finances" component, the scores for the other four components are quite similar. Women in the Philippines show greater capability in keeping up with their bills payment (as reflected in their low levels of financial stress -- score of 73.3) but still struggled to save for big item purchases. In comparison, fewer women in India indicate experiencing financial stress (74.2) but are at a peril in saving for big purchases (29.3, the lowest among all markets) and can barely keep up with bills (55.4)
This could be partly attributed to the difference in income between the two markets: the GDP per capita in the Philippines is $5,900, nearly one-third higher than that for India ($4,000).5 In the article "Big boost for retail as people spend on small items" (Aug 14, 2013), it was noted that the slowdown in economic growth momentum is driving Indian consumers to continue postponing or cancelling big discretionary spends such as house, car and holiday, and treating themselves to smaller luxuries such as apparel, footwear, and make-up, instead. This is not surprising, given that the economic GDP growth rates had remained flat at 5.0% throughout 2012 and 2013, and inflationary pressures had remained very high (10.6 for 2013).6 In contrast, inflation in the Philippines has been trending downwards from 3.2% in 2012 to 3.0 for 2013.
Personal Well-Being & Voice
In terms of "Personal Well-Being" and "Voice," the scores for India are slightly healthier than in the Philippines: 75.2 and 73.3 for "Voice" and 73.9 versus 68.2 for "Personal Well-Being"-- both in favor of India. The biggest gaps are for the sub-components "Family Stress" (71.9 against 63.3 in favor of India) and "Health" (72.8 versus 61.0 in favor of India). The scores for "Voice" in both markets are very healthy and generally similar across the four sub-components, although the opinion of women in India pertaining to household non-financial decisions is more highly regarded (75.4 versus 71.9 for Philippines).
5. Figures for GDP per capita are based on the 2013 estimate by IMF
6. MasterCard Asia/Pacific Quarterly Commentary Q4 2013, Estimates sourced from the OECD, World Bank, IMF and individual country statistical board
The Well-Being Index scores for China (67.4, ranked fifth), Hong Kong (66.5, ranked sixth), Thailand (66.0, ranked seventh) and Vietnam (65.8, ranked eighth) are similar and quite healthy. Among the four markets, China has the highest score for "Voice" at 73.5 (third highest in the survey); in particular, the opinions of Chinese women within the household for both financial and non-financial decisions are highly valued at 76.3 and 76.7, respectively. With an overall Well-Being Index score of 66.5, Hong Kong is the highest among the Developed Markets.
Work & Finances
The overall scores for the "Work & Finances" component are very close (three points apart for all four markets), but differ vastly at the sub-component level. This is most evident when it comes to "Employment" and "Saving for Big Purchases". While the outlook for Employment prospects is very high among women in China (74.7) and Thailand (77.4) and quite healthy for those in Vietnam (64.9), the same is not observed among women in Hong Kong (50.5). Similarly, the outlook for "Regular Income" for China (88.5), Thailand (90.0) and Vietnam (81.5) is very healthy, but much less optimistic in Hong Kong (72.0). We propose several underlying factors underpinning this observation:
- The working environment in Hong Kong is extremely competitive, which invariably translates into higher expectations among employees with regards to salary and employment opportunities.
- Hong Kong is the only Developed Market among the four in comparison here where the economic growth rates for 2013 and 2014 are the least robust, which may explain why the outlook on employment is not as high as the other three markets with higher economic growth estimates.
We also observe that women in Hong Kong are capable of keeping up with bills (78.8) and saving for big purchases (78.7), while women in the other three countries are barely able to do so. This may be due to vast difference in earning power (as reflected in the GDP per Capita $PPP, IMF 2013), which is shown in the following table where income levels are significantly higher in Hong Kong -- hence greater ability to keep up with bills and save for big purchases.
Satisfaction in Life
Women in these four markets are generally quite satisfied with their current life situation and in five yearsÕ time, as well as their ability to strike a desired balance between work and life. Women in Vietnam (71.2) and China (71.0) expressed slightly higher satisfaction levels than women in Thailand (67.9) and Hong Kong (66.3). Specifically, women in Hong Kong (65.0) and Thailand (65.1) are just adequately able to achieve a balance between work/school and other aspects of their lives.
Women in Vietnam demonstrate higher resilience than the other three markets when it came to coping with stress at home (65.5) and in the workplace (76.5, third highest among the 16 markets), keeping their health in check (61.5) and coping with financial stress (69.3).
In terms of "Voice," the survey revealed the scores for Hong Kong (67.5), Thailand (67.7) and Vietnam (67.8) to be very close, while China is ahead at 73.5. In particular, the opinion of Chinese women in the household on both financial (76.3) and non-financial (76.7) decisions is very highly valued, as is among their peers and friends (73.0).
The Well-Being Index scores for Singapore (61.4), New Zealand (61.0), Australia (59.5) and Malaysia (58.0) are acceptable and quite similar although marked differences can be noted at the component and sub-component levels.
Work & Finances
In terms of "Keeping up with Bills," women across all four markets demonstrated the ability to keep up with bills with New Zealand taking the lead at 84.0 (highest in the whole survey), followed by Australia (79.3), Singapore (76.5) and Malaysia (69.2). Using GDP per capita as a gauge of income levels, it can be inferred that as income rises, so does the ability to keep up with bills payment. It is interesting to note that higher income does not necessary convey greater capacity to save for big purchases, as is reflected in the higher scores for Australia (71.7), New Zealand (69.7) and Singapore (64.2) in the table below. In contrast, although women in Malaysia earn less, their ability to keep up with bills and save for big item purchases (63.2) is relatively commendable.
The forward looking sub-components of "Regular Income" and "Employment" also show significantly different results with women in Australia scoring the lowest for both categories: Regular Income (54.6, third lowest in the survey) and Employment (27.8, second lowest in survey trailing Taiwan). In contrast, despite their lower income levels, Malaysian women are the most optimistic about salary and employment prospects. This may be due to the higher economic growth momentum and relatively strong labor market conditions in the country compared to the other three markets. By the same token, the slower pace of economic expansion and lackluster labor market in Australia may have contributed to the higher levels of pessimism with regards to income and employment.
Safety from Threats
In terms of "Safety from Threats," the scores for Australia (58.6) and New Zealand (59.0) are just adequate in the range of 50s, while the score for Singapore is healthier at 64.8. Malaysia's score of 44.7 is the lowest among all 16 countries, with "Violent Crime" and "Financial Crime" scoring extremely poorly at 38.3 and 33.4, underscoring the concern among Malaysian women with regards to safety. In fact, one would expect the scores for Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to be much higher as is reflected in the World Bank's Governance Indicator "Rule of Law" (2012), however, this is not the case as shown in the table below:
Malaysia Crime Rate: Safety for Women
According to data released by Numbeo (January 2014),7 crime rates in Malaysia are extremely high and safety levels are poor. With an overall Crime Index score of 66.41 (100 being very high and 50 being reasonable), and an overall Safety Index score of 33.59 (low score meaning safety level is poor), it is not surprising that Malaysia ranked the lowest in terms of "Safety from Threats."
Satisfaction in Life, Personal Well-Being & Voice
The scores for the other three components "Satisfaction," "Personal Well-Being" and "Voice" are broadly similar across the four markets but are barely acceptable within the range of mid-to-high 50s and low 60s. In general, the women in these markets are not satisfied with their present life situation (53.8 for Malaysia and 55.2 for New Zealand), and are concerned about their health conditions (43.8 for both Australia and New Zealand) and stress levels in the family (48.7 in Australia, 42.7 for New Zealand and 48.6 for Singapore).
The Well-Being Index scores for Taiwan (55.0), Bangladesh (55.3), South Korea (54.9) and Japan (53.6, lowest among all markets) are very similar, but different radically at the sub-component level. In terms of "Work & Finances," most women in all four markets are extremely pessimistic over their regular income (bonuses and fringe benefits) and employment situation prospects over the next six months. Specifically, the employment outlook for women in Taiwan is the least sanguine and lowest in the survey at 22.9, more than four times lower than that in Myanmar (99.4). This could be due to the weak economic growth prospects of Taiwan: real GDP growth rates of 1.7% and 1.9% for 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Work & Finances
In terms of "Regular Income," the outlook among Japanese women is the most negative (32.3, lowest in the survey, about three times more pessimistic than Burmese women). We posit the underlying reasons to be the expected slowdown in the economy from 1.9% in 2013 to 1.5% in 2014 and the erosion in income levels as the hike in sales tax from 8% to 10% kicks in in April this year; which would probably impact on the outlook for income.
The results revealed that although South Korean women are moderately able to keep up with bills (74.1), "Saving for Big Purchases" (35.0, third lowest in the survey, and lowest among Developed Markets) is a huge challenge for them. This is most likely due to the very low household savings rate in the country (4.8% for 2013 and expected to decline to 4.3% for 2014, OECD8) as they borrow heavily to spend on private education and real estate investment-- a trend which is manifested in the rising household debt rate (US$940 billion as at the end of 2013; amounting to 164% of available income). Hyundai Research InstituteÕs latest Economic Happiness Index published in December 2013 revealed that nearly one in every five South Koreans saw household debt as their biggest economic worry. This is also consistent with what is observed in MasterCard's Well-Being survey results: family stress in the country is the second lowest in the survey at 43.5.
In comparison, women in Japan and Taiwan express less difficulty in paying off their bills and saving for big item purchases.
Bangladesh -- being the only Emerging Market among the four markets compared here -- scored poorly across all four sub-components. In particular, "Saving for Big Purchases" (31.7) and "Keeping up with Bills" (44.1) are the second lowest scores in the survey. This could be due to the significantly lower earning power of women in the country (GDP per capita, PPP, $2,100) as compared to the other markets such as Japan where a GDP per capita of $37,100 extends substantially greater ability to keep up with bills (78.6) and save for big purchases (68.5).
Safety from Threats
In terms of "Safety from Threats," the scores for all four markets are poor, with Bangladesh (47.2) ranked the second lowest overall in the survey. Specifically, "Violent Crime" (39.5) and "Financial Crime" (43.1) are both very low scores, underscoring the high degree of concern among Bangladeshi women. According to a study "Types, causes and measures of violent crimes in Bangladesh" published in 2011, violent crime in Bangladesh is present in many forms including murder, rape, assault, domestic violence, and many others. A recent survey of crime trends conducted by the United Nations, states that the murder rate in the country is the most violent crime which was 2.3 per 100,000 people and continues to be on an upward trend. The research also highlighted the following points:
- Rape rates in Bangladesh are very high (ranked just after murder)
- Two girls out of 100,00 are raped per year
- Other crimes against women include domestic violence, acid-attacks and eve-teasing (a form of public sexual harassment)
- Violence against women is one of the highest in the world
The indices released by Numbeo indicate alarmingly high crime rates in Dhaka, Bangladesh (even higher than for Malaysia). With a Crime Index of 66.57 (100 being very high and 50 being reasonable), and a Safety Index of 33.43 (low score meaning safety level is poor), it is reflective of the concerns expressed by the female respondents in the MasterCard survey.
Cyber Crime in South Korea
The results reveal that "Cyber Crimes" are of grave concern among South Korean women, as is reflected in the score of 39.1 for the country (lowest in survey). Data from the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning highlight that South Korea has seen over 100,000 cyber crime cases annually since 2010, including hacking and distributed denial-of-service attacks. Between 2008 and 2011, cyber attacks rose by 37% (Korea Internet Security Agency). On average, 296 cyber-attacks by unidentified hackers were reported daily in 2012, and the situation has not improved in 2013.9 The following is a list of some of the most severe and wide-scale attacks reported in the country:
- 2009: A number of government websites including the presidential Blue House and National Assembly crashed for days after being targeted with malicious code. The estimated loss of cyber attacks in 2009 alone was between US$33.7 million and US$50.5 million (Hyundai Research Institute).
- 2011: A bank's entire computer system was hacked and shut down, leaving tens of thousands of computers infected and some permanently damaged (The Korea Information Technology Research Institute)
- June 2013: High-profile attacks that led to the shutdown of websites of the presidential office, government offices, news outlets and banks.
The results indicate that the majority of women in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan experience stress at home and in the workplace, and do not feel that their health is at the optimal condition. Across the 16 markets, the score for "Family Stress" is the lowest in Japan (42.5), followed closely by South Korea (43.5) and Taiwan (43.8); with Bangladesh scoring slightly higher at 52.5. Emotional and mental stress in the workplace are also a serious concern and are most pronounced among South Korean women (55.4, lowest in the survey) and Taiwanese women (56.5, third lowest). The high level of stress experienced in these markets is reflected in the poor scores for "Health" as well, with women in South Korea scoring the lowest in the survey at 42.0, followed by Japan (44.8), Taiwan (48.5) and Bangladesh (53.4).
Stress in Japan
The survey revealed that dealing with family stress is one of the most acute problems facing Japanese women today. Numerous studies that have been conducted to evaluate this issue indicate that some of the sources of family stress include demographical changes, marital instability, family care, educational issues and child rearing stress. In his research paper "Families and their children in Japan" (2008),10 Masahito Sasaki highlighted that family burdens in Japan are related to not only socio-economic pressures, but internal changes such as physiological and psychological stress and external changes such as industrialization and urbanization as well. A more current journal article "Japanese Society under Stress: Diagnosis and Prescription" (Asian Survey, 201211) authored by psychotherapist Suzanne Hall Vogel, noted that Japan has transformed from a homogeneous society emphasizing a commonly shared ethic, family structure and social cohesion into a more diversified and international society with more variation in family patterns and work conditions -- a shift that has increased stress within families. In the study titled "Multigenerational family structure in Japanese society: impacts on stress and health behaviors among women and men" (Takeda, et.al., 2004) noted that the multigenerational family structure in the Japanese society (due in part to rapid population aging in the country), coupled with rising labor force participation by Japanese women, declining marriage and fertility rates and women's changing expectations have combined to produce higher strains within the households. The study revealed women in multigenerational households reported more worries around care-giving.12
Stress in South Korea
Being overworked, overstressed and highly anxious is widespread among South Koreans, including students, professionals, entertainers, politicians, athletes and business leaders, and this is evident in the rising divorce rate, low fertility rate (fourth lowest in the world), a suicide rate that is among the highest in the world (doubling in the decade between 1999 and 2009 with more than 30 South Koreans killing themselves daily) and a 'macho corporate culture that still encourages blackout drinking sessions after work' (The New York Times, 2011).13
According to a study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2010,14 other factors that directly impact women and their families and that are contributing to the intensely stressful environment in South Korea include: (i) high cost of living and of educating children which adversely leads to declining fertility, (ii) hugely expensive mortgages -- home prices in the country are 7.7 times the median income, with banks commonly requiring a 50% down payment on home loans with payment terms of 10 years or less; (iii) low household savings rate of around 4% (2011) which makes it highly stressful to keep up with loan payments; and (iv) although 71% of secondary school graduates are sent to college, the employment rate is low for new college graduates (around 60%).
Satisfaction in Life
We observe a strong, positive correlation between "Personal Well-Being" and "Satisfaction" in life. The results indicate that the strain of having to deal with stress is reflected in low satisfaction levels among the women in these markets, with Japan scoring the lowest overall (50.5), followed by Taiwan (55.3) and South Korea (57.6). It is interesting to note that women in Bangladesh are quite satisfied with their lives (score of 63.6 is higher than other Developed Markets such as Australia (62.1), New Zealand (61.8), and Singapore (59.7).
8. OECD's forecast of Household Savings Rate
9. "South Korea's 'Best of the Best' tackle cyber crime." CNN News, 14 Jan 2013, quoting data from the Korea Information Technology Research Institute
10, Sasaki, Masahito (2008) 'Families and their children in Japan'
11. Hall Vogel, Suzanne (2012) "Japanese Society under Stress: Diagnosis and Prescription," Asian Survey, University of California Press, 2012
12. Takeda, Yasuhisa et.al. (2004) "Multigenerational family structure in Japanese society: impacts on stress and health behaviors among women and men," Social Science & Medicine, Vol.59, Issue 1, July 2004, pp. 69-81
13. "Stressed and depressed, Koreans avoid therapyâ" The New York Times, 6 July 2011
14. "Why South Korea is under stress and college graduates there earn less than if they didn't have a degree," quoting McKinsey study (2010)
The spread of the overall Women's Well-Being Index values across the 16 Asia/Pacific markets shows all of them above the neutral (50 point) mark with Myanmar (70.9) and Indonesia (70.0) taking the leading positions and Japan (53.6) and South Korea (54.9) being the two lowest, against the regional average of 62.7. There is marked inter-market divergence between the seven Developed Markets (average of 58.8) and the nine Emerging Markets (average of 65.7), as well as intra-market divergences within the Emerging/Developed Markets brackets.
In the Developed Markets -- with the exception of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan -- Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia are above the Developed Market average of 58.8. With an overall Well-Being Index score of 66.5, Hong Kong has a clear lead compared to the other six countries in the Developed Market region, while Japan (53.6) has the lowest score. Among the Emerging Markets, Malaysia (58.0) and Bangladesh (55.3) are the only two markets with scores below the Emerging Market average of 65.7. Myanmar (70.9) and Indonesia (70.0) have the highest and healthiest overall Well-Being Index scores; followed by the Philippines and India at 69.2 and 69.1, respectively.
The survey showed that a higher standard of living among countries in the Developed Markets such as Japan does not necessarily translate to a higher sense of well-being than in the Emerging Markets such as Myanmar and Indonesia. For instance, the score for Personal Well-Being among women is generally poor, except for Myanmar (79.4), India (73.9) and Indonesia (70.7). High stress levels in the home and workplace and less-than-optimal health conditions are serious concerns among women in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan where a strong positive correlation between "Personal Well-Being" and "Satisfaction" in life is observed.
At the component level, Developed Asia/Pacific has a higher score in only one component (Safety from threats 57.0 versus 55.1 for Emerging Markets). For all the other components of "Work and Finances," "Satisfaction," "Personal Well-Being," and "Voice," the scores for Emerging Markets are markedly ahead of that in the developed countries. With the exception of "Cyber Crime" and "Natural Disaster/Pollution," it is also observed that the Developed Markets do not have a markedly higher overall score (57.0) relative to Emerging Markets (55.1). In fact, the survey revealed that the score for Developed Markets in "Disease Outbreak" was only marginally higher than that for Emerging Markets (61.6 versus 60.1).
The MasterCard Index of Well-Being is based on a survey conducted between October 2013 and November 2013 on 7,532 respondents aged 18-64 in 16 markets.
Respondents were asked 21 questions pertaining to five categories. The results of their responses were converted in five category sub-indexes, which were subsequently averaged to form the MasterCard Index of Well-Being (MCIWB) score. The MCIWB score and the five component index scores range from 0-100 where 0 represents the maximum negative response, 100 represents maximum positive response and 50 represents neutrality.
TagsAsia Pacific, Women, well-being, consumer research
Regional Component Breakdown
"Works and Finances"
"Safety from Threats"
Insights on Women's Well-Being by Country
Myanmar & Indonesia
Philippines & India
China, Hong Kong, Thailand & Vietnam
Singapore, New Zealand, Australia & Malaysia
Taiwan, Bangladesh, South Korea & Japan
Source and Notes