The GSMA has published a global report that examines whether mobile phones make people happy: it finds, with caveats, that they do.
The report, developed with Gallup using data that is the basis if the UN’s annual World Happiness Report, quantifies the impact that mobile phones and Internet access have on people’s happiness in 142 countries representing more than 95% of the world’s population. It measures quality of life though “Subjective Well-Being” indicators – how people evaluate their own lives, and the balance of the positive and negative emotions they feel.
The main findings of the report are:
- Overall, mobile phone ownership, supplemented with Internet access, is associated with an improvement in people’s lives
- The power of mobile phones to improve lives is largely linked to their status as the primary device that people use to access the Internet. In the absence of Internet access, those who have a mobile phone give similar life ratings as those without one
- However, in some regions, including low income countries where fixed-line infrastructure has lagged behind more developed countries, having a mobile phone, even without Internet access, is associated with modest improvements in how people evaluate their lives
- In upper middle income countries, and in some specific regions (including Western and Eastern Europe, East Asia and Latin America), having a mobile phone even without Internet access is associated with net positive emotions.
Given that between them China and India are home to more than 36% of the planet’s population, the divergence in life ratings between these two countries is interesting. The report notes that the Chinese government – motivated in part by concerns about social instability – has invested heavily in infrastructure intended to alleviate poverty in the country’s vast hinterlands. These initiatives include the express goal of providing broadband access to 90% of poverty-stricken regions and providing support for small online retailers in underdeveloped areas. Action in India has addressed the digital divide more slowly, with hundreds of millions still unconnected. The researchers conclude that while the Internet is unquestionably more restricted in China than it is in India, it is likely providing economic and well-being benefits to a much larger share of the Chinese population.