The “Wellness Divide” between Low- and High-Income Countries Will Further Sharpen
 

By Thierry Malleret, economist

As the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, just put it: the global economy is facing “a confluence of calamities.” The three main engines that drive it are sputtering simultaneously. In the European Union, because of the war and the supply shock inflicted by commodity prices; in China, because of its inflexible Covid policy and the harm this causes to activity and supply chains and in the US, because of sharply tightening financial conditions. The fallout from this calamitous combination of war, the pandemic, and rising inflation rates will cause the most suffering in middle-income and developing countries but there will also be knock on effects in high-income countries.  

All these constitute strong global wellbeing headwinds. As they conflate with each other, one clear fallout is that they’ll make wellbeing and wellness unattainable for an ever-rising proportion of the world’s population. The situation in middle- and, particularly, low-income countries is getting desperate for a rising number of people. At the end of last year, 700 million people lived under $1.90 a day (the World Bank’s international “extreme poverty” line–a threshold below which the aspiration for wellbeing is meaningless). Now this number could swell to 900 million or more, disproportionately affecting women and girls, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia.  

On the other hand, the relative wellbeing scarcity (since there’ll be less of it) will reinforce the appeal and potency of the pursuit of wellness for those who can afford it and in higher-income countries. And in wealthier nations this will be compounded by the fact that burnout rates seem to be exploding. According to various surveys and studies conducted in the US, some 40% of workers are more burned out this year than in 2021. Also, two-thirds of working parents have been experiencing parental burnout during the pandemic (which hasn’t ended yet). The problem is global and already last year a report from McKinsey had concluded that employee burnout was ubiquitous, alarming, and underreported 

Two things are likely to emerge:  

High-end wellness industry segments (i.e., spas, beauty, wellness travel and wellness real estate) will perform very well. But, at the same time, policymakers will also increasingly incentivize public wellness measures that have little market value for the wellness industry, aiming at delivering societal benefits while enhancing individual wellbeing (like new initiatives for walking and biking in cities, rewilding the urban landscape, etc).  

As a result, the wellness industry will become more “scrutinized.” The “me-focused” aspect that often confuses the pursuit of happiness (or subjective wellbeing) with the pursuit of “self” will be called into question. A more minimalist approach in wellness will perhaps prevail, less flashy and more preoccupied by finding the proper balance between “me” and the community to which we belong. The wellness industry needs to collectively consider how it will adjust and react.  

 

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