Monday, September 18, 2017

Private tutoring and inequality in Georgia

According to the March 2016 CRRC/TI-Georgia survey, roughly 4 in 10 households with school-aged children reported hiring a private tutor at the time of the survey for at least one subject that a child in their household was studying at school. Since the question was asked about private tutors for only subjects that pupil(s) were studying at school at the time of the fieldwork, the share of households that hire private tutors is likely higher than reported. This expectation is based on the fact that aptitude tests that are a required part of the university entrance exams for all applicants are not related to any specific school subject, yet, create a high demand for private tutoring. While, as has been noted before, private tutoring reflects economic inequalities in Georgian society, it also contributes to furthering these inequalities. This blog post looks at how the frequency of hiring private tutors in Georgia differs by settlement type and level of education of the interviewed household member.

Compared to other settlements, private tutoring is most widespread in Tbilisi. While 47% of Tbilisi households with school-aged children reported hiring a tutor for at least one school subject, only 32% of rural households reported the same.

Note: All charts in this blog post are based on the sub-sample of households with school-aged children (39% of all households). Thus, margins of error are higher for the reported findings. Answers “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer” (less than 1% if combined) were excluded from the analysis. 

How the person interviewed was related to the child(ren) of school age living in the same household was not recorded during the interviews. Thus, we do not know his or her role in decisions about the child(ren)’s education, and specifically the hiring of private tutors. Still, we look at their level of education as a proxy for the entire household.

In cases when the household member reported having higher than secondary education, the school-aged children living in his/her household were more likely to have private tutor(s), compared to when the household member reported having secondary technical or secondary and lower education. Higher levels of education are also associated with relatively higher incomes. Hence, households where higher levels of education are reported also are likely to have more resources to cover the costs of private tutoring.

Note: Answer options to the question “What is the highest level of education you have achieved to date?” were recorded in the following way: “Primary education”, “Incomplete secondary education”, and “Completed secondary education” were combined into the category “Secondary education or lower”. “Secondary technical education/vocational education” is labeled “Secondary technical education”. “Incomplete higher education”, “Completed higher education (BA, MA, or Specialist degree)”, and “Post-graduate degree” were combined into the category “Higher than secondary education”. Answers “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer” (less than 5% if combined) were excluded from the analysis. 

Reported private tutoring practices differ by a number of variables in Georgia. School children living in Tbilisi and in households where interviewed household members report higher levels of education tend to have private tutors more often compared to other children.

To have a closer look at the CRRC/TIG survey data, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Attitudes towards immigrants in Georgia, and how they differ based on a person’s economic situation

A recent protest in Tbilisi was a reminder of the importance of studying attitudes towards immigrants in Georgia. A previous blog post discussed how these attitudes vary based on whether a person has or has not had personal contact with immigrants. This blog post explores how attitudes towards immigrants differ based on whether people believe or not that immigrants will contribute to the economic development of Georgia, and how they describe their households’ economic condition compared to the households around them, using CRRC’s 2015 Caucasus Barometer survey (CB) data. “Immigrants” was operationalized in the questionnaire as “foreigners who come to Georgia and stay here for longer than three months.”

A plurality of the population of Georgia (45%) report that immigrants will sometimes contribute to the country’s economic development and sometimes not. About one in five (22%) think that immigrants will contribute to the economic development of Georgia, and 18% think the opposite. Among those who think that immigrants will contribute to the economic development of Georgia, 50% report positive attitudes towards them. However, when people think that immigrants sometimes will and sometimes will not contribute to the economic development of Georgia or when they think immigrants will not contribute to it, they generally report neutral attitudes towards immigrants. Notably, among those who believe that immigrants will not contribute to the economic development of Georgia, 17% report negative attitudes towards them, which is the highest share of negative attitudes reported.

Note: For the question, “How would you characterize your attitude towards the foreigners who come to Georgia and stay here for longer than 3 months?” the original 5-point scale (1 – ‘Very bad’, 2 – ‘Bad’, 3 – ‘Neutral’, 4 – ‘Good’, 5 – ‘Very good’) was re-coded into a 3-point scale, with codes 1 and 2 labeled “Bad attitude” and codes 4 and 5 labeled “Good attitude” on the charts in this blog post. Answer options “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer” are not shown and hence the percentages reported in the charts in this blog post may not sum to 100%.

Interestingly, the better a person’s assessment of their household’s relative economic condition, the better attitudes they report towards immigrants.

Note: For the question, “Relative to most of the households around you, would you describe the current economic condition of your household as …?” the original 5-point scale (1 – ‘Very poor’, 2 – ‘Poor’, 3 – ‘Fair’, 4 – ‘Good’, 5 – ‘Very good’) was re-coded into a 3-point scale, with codes 1 and 2 labeled “Poor” and codes 4 and 5 labeled “Good” on the chart above.

Overall, reported attitudes towards immigrants are rather neutral in Georgia. Importantly though, when people think that immigrants will contribute to the economic development of Georgia or consider the current economic condition of their households to be good, their attitudes tend to be more positive.

To have a closer look at the Caucasus Barometer data, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, September 04, 2017

A generation gap in retirement planning in Georgia

The pension system in Georgia faces challenges. According to the World Bank, in a country with a declining working age population (see slides 6 and 7), a retirement system in which the state is solely responsible for providing pensions – as in Georgia – is unadvisable. The Government of Georgia, with the help of international organizations, has been working to reform the country’s pension system, with the latest pension reform plan approved in spring 2016. The government is set to launch the new system in October 2017. With the new plan, in addition to the basic “universal” pension, still provided by the government, the employee, his/her employer, and the government will each make contributions to the employee’s retirement savings account. Each of the contributors will pay at least 2% of the employee’s monthly salary, totaling a minimum of 6% of his/her salary in a given month. Hence, an individual’s retirement savings will consist of these contributions and the interest accumulated on the retirement account.

According to the March 2016 CRRC/NDI survey, the plurality of the population of Georgia plans to or is supporting themselves in their old age with state pensions (49%) and/or assistance from their children (31%). Roughly a quarter (27%) reported that they have done nothing, have never thought about it, or don’t know what they do or plan to do to support themselves in old age. Younger people, however, plan to rely on sources of income other than state pensions more often than older people.

Note: A show card was used for this question. Up to three answer options were accepted per interview. Answer options “Saved or plan to save money in the bank” and “Rely or plan to rely on support from my relatives (besides my children)” were named very rarely and are thus combined with the answer option “Other.”

The above chart shows the distribution of answers nationwide, but there are important differences by age. The majority (72%) of the population 56 years old and older name government pensions as a means to support themselves in old age. In contrast, only 29% of young people between 18 and 35 years old report planning to rely on government pensions when they get old.

Note: Answer options “Made or plan to make investments”, “Saved or plan to save money, but not in the bank”, “Saved or plan to save money in the bank”, and “Bought or plan to buy a house/apartment for rent or sale” were combined with the answer option “Other”. 

Government should encourage the diversity of options for retirement planning that young people already report they plan on using as it may reduce dependence on state pensions in the long term. Awareness raising campaigns about such options are also important for supporting citizens in making informed decisions, and could be integrated into the campaigns already planned before the launch of the new pension system in 2017.

The data presented in this blog post is available at CRRC’s Online Data Analysis (ODA) tool.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Helping in Georgia: A myth confronted

There are a number of persistent myths about the population of Georgia, with some of the most famous being about hospitality and readiness to help others. As with any myth, it would be quite impossible to say exactly where such beliefs come from. However, relevant survey data often allows for the testing of whether these myths are accurate or not.

CRRC’s 2015 Caucasus Barometer survey findings make it possible to get quite specific information about whether and how people in Georgia help others – from donating money to a church or mosque to helping a neighbor or a friend with some household chores or childcare. This blog post compares how similar or different reported behavior is in the case of non-monetary vs. monetary help (donations), with the latter being asked separately about religious and non-religious charity. As the findings show, there are no drastic differences in the reported level of involvement in these activities.

For a society that praises “helping others” and, according to a widely cited CRRC report, is characterized by an “abundance” of bonding social capital, the share of the population that reported having helped others is unexpectedly small. Even in villages, where, intuitively, mutual help would be expected to be the most widespread, only 63% reported having helped neighbor(s) or friend(s) in the six months prior to the survey. This share is the lowest in urban settlements outside Tbilisi, with just around half of the population reporting having helped neighbor(s) or friend(s). Overall, men report helping others slightly more often than women, as do those in the youngest age group. This share is 67% among those who are between 18 and 29 years old. Among those who are 65 or older, the respective share is almost half of that, at 37%.

Importantly, helping others with household chores or childcare is an activity that does not require any direct monetary investment, and thus it is very different from the other forms of help CB asked about – donating money to a religious or non-religious cause. In a society like the Georgia’s, where almost 2/3 of the population report they need to borrow money to buy food at least occasionally, the economic situation will inevitably influence the population’s potential to donate money to a cause, even if people strongly support it. Still, and quite surprisingly, the share of those who reported having donated money to a church or mosque in 2015 is not any different from the share of those who reported having helped others with household chores or childcare. The demographic profiles of these two groups are, however, slightly different. For example, there are no obvious gender differences in the case of religious charity, and the population of the capital reported having made such donations more often (62%) than the population of other settlement types. Similar to the case with non-monetary help though, those who are 65 years old or older are the most passive in the case of religious donations.

Only 67% of those who reported having donated money to a church or mosque reported to have also helped others with household chores or childcare. Slightly less, about 2/3, of those who reported having donated money to a church or mosque also reported having made a contribution to a non-religious charity, including donations by sms or giving money to beggars.

With monetary donations, a person’s economic situation does not seem to be solely conditioning whether s/he would actually donate money or not. Even when people report they needed to borrow money for food, some still say they have donated money for either religious or non-religious charity – often at a rate similar to those who report being better off. Of those who said that it happened at least on a monthly basis in the past 12 months that they did not have enough money to buy food, equal shares (49%) reported having donated and not donated money to a church or mosque. As for non-religious monetary donations, however, the situation is rather different. Only 38% of this group reported having made a contribution to a non-religious charity (including donations by sms or giving money to beggars) and a larger share, 60%, reported not having done so. Involvement in non-monetary help was reported at the same level by people of different reported levels of well-being.

 Note: The category “At least every month” combines the original response options “Every day”, “Every week”, and “Every month”.

Leaving aside the relatively low involvement of the population of Georgia in a variety of activities aimed at helping others, there are understandable differences by one’s economic situation when it comes to monetary vs. non-monetary help. People of different levels of well-being report very similar, albeit rather low levels of helping neighbors or friends with household chores or childcare. When it comes to monetary help, however, economic well-being obviously makes a difference, but less so in the case of religious charity. Although the answers may partially be subject to social desirability bias, the behavioral patterns reported in cases of religious and non-religious charity are unlikely to be explained by such a bias alone.

CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer and other survey data is available at our Online Data Analysis portal.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Statistical Hiccups Cause Georgia to Become Lower-Middle Income Country

[Note: This article originally appeared on Eurasianet. It was written by Dustin Gilbreath, a Policy Analyst at CRRC-Georgia. The views expressed within the article do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC-Georgia or any related entity.]

Georgia’s economy appeared to take a step backward earlier this summer when the World Bank demoted the country to “lower-middle-income” status. The demotion, however, has more to do with statistical hiccups than it does with a substantial decline in economic activity.

In 2016, Georgian officials cheered when the World Bank promoted the country into the ranks of “upper-middle-income” states. It was big news in Tbilisi, the capital. But in July, officials didn’t have much to say when the country slipped back into the “lower-middle-income” ranks.

To understand the up-and-down tale of Georgia’s economic status, one needs to know how the World Bank classifies countries into income groups, a bit about Georgia’s 2002 and 2014 censuses, Georgia’s fluctuating exchange rate, and what country classifications are used for in practice.

To start, the World Bank measures economic status primarily by relying on gross national income (GNI) per capita, which is composed of GDP, as well as incomes flowing to the country from abroad, including interest and dividends. To make these calculations, the Bank uses something called the Atlas method, which accounts for fluctuations in the exchange rate using a three-year, inflation-adjusted average of rates.

Thresholds for each income group change slightly every year based on inflation. In the most recent year, countries with less than $1,005 in GNI per capita were designated low-income countries; those with GNIs from $1,006 to $3,955 fell into the lower- middle-income group; $3,956 to $12,235 were upper middle income; and those with $12,236 and above attained high-income status.

Georgia isn’t the only post-Soviet country to experience a downgrade in recent years due to exchange-rate woes and other factors. Russia, for example, moved down to upper-middle-income status in 2016 after three years in the high-income group.  Meanwhile, Azerbaijan, which is grappling with a severe downturn due to the global drop in energy prices, is at risk of demotion to lower-middle-income status next year. And Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan appear poised to slip back into the lower-income category.

GNI per capita is a population-based measure. That means that as the number of people decreases, the figure increases. For this reason, the 2014 census made Georgia an upper-middle income country. This fact stems from Georgia’s population size between 2002 and 2014 being estimated using the 2002 census. In 2002, the Georgian government carried out its first census since the last Soviet census in 1989. The census’s final population count is believed to have heavily overestimated the population at about 4.4 million citizens. Between censuses, the population data is updated using birth and death registries. These too had problems, showing that Georgia’s population was growing steadily.

In contrast to the 2002 census, the 2014 census was more rigorous. It showed a 17% smaller population figure than the Georgian National Statistics Office had estimated for 2014. This meant that the per capita figures for GNI jumped, pushing Georgia into upper-middle income status. Notably, estimates of GNI per capita which use more realistic population figures for the years between 2002 and 2014 suggest that Georgia had likely crossed the upper-middle income threshold in 2013.

Even though the Atlas method takes into account fluctuations in exchange rate, GNI per capita is ultimately denominated in dollars for the World Bank’s calculations. In Georgia’s case, the Lari has dropped from around GEL 1.7 to the dollar in early 2014 to about GEL 2.4 to the dollar at the time of this writing. The value of the Lari was even lower for a time. In practice this has decreased Georgia’s GNI per capita figures to the point of knocking the country into a different income category.

Against the backdrop of population estimate revisions and fluctuating exchange rates, Georgia’s economy has been growing, albeit very slowly for a developing country in recent years. Georgia’s economy grew at an average rate of about 5.9 percent from 1995-2013; since 2014, it has grown at an average rate of 3.4 percent

The exchange rate fluctuation is hampering growth prospects. For one, rate volatility makes it harder for businesses to predict costs. In addition, many Georgians have dollar-denominated loans, while their incomes are in Georgian Lari. Although nominal salaries have slightly outpaced inflation, they have not kept pace with the decline in the Georgian currency’s value. Hence, debt payments consume a rising share of income for those trying to pay off dollar-denominated loans. The Georgian Government and National Bank are addressing this situation via a program that subsidizes the conversion of foreign-currency loans into Georgian Lari at a favorable rate.

While Georgia’s income group status has more to do with how the statistic is calculated than the actual state of Georgia’s economy, the changes have had clear implications. For instance, the Global Fund - an organization that has provided over USD 100 million to Georgia over the years to combat tuberculosis and AIDS - has different rules on aid for lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income countries. Meanwhile, a Brookings Institution study suggests that upper-middle income countries receive aid more often in the form of credits (i.e. loans) than grants when compared with lower middle income countries.

Some development organizations explicitly change lending terms when a country moves from lower middle to upper middle income status, although the World Bank itself does not. Hence, Georgia’s downgrading may have a silver lining, potentially leading to more aid opportunities.

But downgrading also has significant downsides. In political terms, it’s not good news for incumbents because it fosters an appearance among the population that the country is moving backwards. It also can impact the decisions of potential foreign investors. The demotion in status is unlikely to make Georgia a more attractive investment destination.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Who makes political decisions in Georgia: What people think

[Note: This post was written by Tsisana Khundadze, a Senior Researcher at CRRC-Georgia. The post was originally published here in partnership with The views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC-Georgia, the National Democratic Institute, or any related entity.]

Bidzina Ivanishvili resigned from the post of prime minister of Georgia on November 20th 2013, and in his own words, “left politics“. Speculation about his continued informal participation in the political decision-making process began even before he resigned and still continues. Some politicians think that Ivanishvili gives orders to the Georgian Dream party from behind-the-scenes, while others believe that he actually distanced himself from politics. Politicians, journalists and experts continue to discuss the situation. Meanwhile, a majority of Georgia’s population thinks that Bidzina Ivanishvili is still involved in the governing process and that his informal participation is unacceptable.

The results of CRRC-Georgia and NDI-Georgia surveys carried out during the last two years indicate that the majority of the population of Georgia thinks that former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili continues to be a decision-maker in the actions of the government. Notably, this is people’s perceptions and may not coincide with reality. In none of the main demographic groups (in terms of sex, age, level of education and settlement type) does the majority indicate otherwise. In total, 56% of the population would prefer that the former prime minister not be involved in the decision-making process at all. About one fourth of the population, on the other hand, thinks that Bidzina Ivanishvili should hold an official position and make political decisions. Only 7% would prefer Bidzina Ivanishvili’s informal involvement in Georgia’s governance.

People who say that the United National Movement is the party closest to them more frequently indicate that Bidzina Ivanishvili is still a decision-maker in politics, compared to Georgian Dream supporters. A majority (86%) of United National Movement supporters say that it is preferable if Bidzina Ivanishvili is not involved in decision making processes, while 43% of Georgian Dream supporters think that the former prime minister should be involved in these processes in an official capacity. It is noteworthy that the share of Georgian Dream supporters who prefer that Bidzina Ivanishvili participate in the political decision-making process in an official capacity decreased during the last two years.

Note: The question about party support was asked as follows: “Which party is closest to you?” People were grouped as supporters of the Georgian Dream or United National Movement based on their answers to this question.

These differences are not entirely unexpected considering the polarized political environment. Though, as we see, even among Georgian Dream supporters, only a small share prefers Bidzina Ivanishvili’s informal participation in political decision-making processes.

The data show that informal governance is unacceptable for the majority of the population of Georgia. No matter an individual’s sex, age, education, place of residence or political orientation, the majority of the population thinks that if a person resigns from politics, s/he should no longer influence the government’s decisions. These results indicate that basic principles of democratic governance, namely transparency of decision-making processes and accountability, are important for people. Politicians should take this into consideration.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Rare evidence: Judges on challenges in the court system of Georgia

Georgia has long faced problems with its court system. On CRRC’s 2015 Caucasus Barometer survey, only about one in four people in Georgia reported trusting the country’s court system. Since 2012, there have been three sets of judicial reforms, yet according to a number of NGOs, there are still important issues to be solved.
We often hear what NGO representatives think about the challenges facing the judiciary system in Georgia. It is, however, rare to have the chance to learn what judges think about the system. In partnership with the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, CRRC-Georgia interviewed 12 current and former judges in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Zugdidi in October-December, 2016. Although 28 judges were sampled originally, others could not be contacted or refused to be interviewed. Importantly, the findings of these interviews cannot be generalized. Still, they provide rather unique insights into what judges think about the problems in the judicial system in Georgia. 
Respondents named several important issues that have a negative impact on the court system. First, judges have large caseloads that might affect the quality of decisions. Thus, more judges are needed to handle cases. Second, judges note a lack of courtrooms. Both problems result in trials being delayed. As one judge noted:
We have a shortage of staff, we need more judges. There are too many cases. We fail to handle them all. We lack judges, <…> so, this may affect the quality of [court] decisions. Trials take too long, because we simply don’t have [enough] courtrooms. (Current judge; male; Tbilisi City Court).
Importantly, both these issues have already been addressed in the draft version of the 2017-2021 Court System Strategy, which calls for an increase in the number of judges as well as courtrooms.
The interviewed judges also noted the lack of trust in the court system as another important issue. The respondents believe that it may be the judges themselves who are sometimes responsible for the lack of trust in the court system. In their opinion, if judges in Georgia consistently issued well-elaborated verdicts, the system would earn more trust, since such verdicts would help avoid any suspicion about the quality of the verdict, particularly from representatives of the party that has lost.  
Respondents also think that the media influences public opinion about the courts. Some of the respondents believe that the media prefers to cover problematic cases, especially when the court competence is to be questioned, rather than the cases when the court came up with a well-reasoned and convincing verdict. Generally, the interviewed judges are not against media coverage of the court proceedings and believe that such coverage increases the transparency of courts. However, some of them believe that journalists should be trained on how to use legal terminology properly.
In spite of the challenges associated with such interviews, it would be valuable to continue to collect these first-hand accounts of the court system from judges. The full report of this study is available here