Brazil: Social inequality starker amid pandemic

Social inequalities have grown sharper in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Brazilians’ happiness indicators are now at the lowest point in the current time series.

According to a survey entitled Bem-Estar Trabalhista, Felicidade e Pandemia (“Labor Welfare, Happiness, and the Pandemic,” in a literal translation), by the Center for Social Policies of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV Social), the nation reached the poorest life satisfaction grade since 2006 in 2020. Inequality, in turn, as gauged by the Gini index, has reached its highest threshold, surpassing the highest level in the present time series in the first quarter of 2021. The decline in income and well-being has taken its toll more severely among the poorest.

The research shows that, during the pandemic, Brazilians average income went from $220 in January through March 2020 to $195.58 in the first quarter of 2021, the lowest value in this time series.

Social welfare—an indicator combining prosperity and equality—sank 19.4 percent from the first quarter of 2020 and the same period in 2021, reaching a new lowest point in the time series.

The Gini index, used to assess wealth distribution in a given location, went from 0.642 in the first quarter of 2020 to 0.674 in the same period in 2021, which is regarded as a “major leap in inequality.”

Comparing both three-month periods, Brazilians reported they have been experiencing more anger (19% to 24%), concern (56% to 62%), stress (43% to 47%), and sadness (26% to 31%).

In the view of FGV Social Director and Research Coordinator Marcelo Neri, material losses explain the lows observed for happiness, but that is not the only reason.

“We’re all going through a very challenging and difficult scenario, as our lives are at risk. Our everyday lives have been really difficult, with social distancing and bereavement, in addition to income losses. This helps explain why people are less happy,” he argued.

Life satisfaction

The general average for happiness is determined by gauging life satisfaction on a scale from zero to ten. This score, which had deteriorated from 2014 to 2018, saw an improvement in 2019 and reached 6.5 points. In 2020, however, it declined 0.4 points to 6.1—the lowest level in the time series, since 2006.

Happiness in the pandemic is also unequal. Among the 20 percent richest, the indicator escalated from 6.8 to 6.9 from 2019 to 2020. Among the 40 percent poorest, in turn, it went down from 6.3 to 5.5.

“All this decline is concentrated on the base of Brazilian income distribution. In other words, it’s a deterioration in inequality for happiness,” Neri pointed out.

The study also compared results with those on 40 other countries. In average, the “happiness score” held steady in the rest of the world, at around six points.

“What the research shows and I think is important to say is that, even though the pandemic is a global phenomenon affecting every country, Brazil has seen a worse performance in these subjective aspects. We may have to rethink how we’re dealing with the pandemic in terms of policies, tackling strategies, and collective action,” said the coordinator.