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New UN report looks at how Costa Ricans live

October 24, 2013

Costa Ricans are some of the most satisfied people in the world and enjoy the longest life expectancy in the region, 79.4 years, but also struggle with a deep distrust of others and discrimination, according to the United Nations Development Program’s latest human development report on the country.

The report found that the government does not meet Ticos’ expectations, highlighted changes in the country’s family structure and bemoaned the corrosive effects of corruption and widening inequality. 

Released Thursday morning, the “National Human Development Report 2013, Learning to Live Together: Coexistence and Human Development in Costa Rica” noted that Ticos scored 7.3 out of 10 on their general level of satisfaction with their lives, close to the world leader, Denmark, at 7.8. 

But nearly 50 percent of those surveyed said they had been discriminated against in some way, especially by age (26 percent), religion (16 percent), and gender (14 percent). 

Coming as no surprise to observers of Costa Rican politics, locals here are dissatisfied with the government’s ability to meet their expectations. Corruption was listed as the biggest problem, followed by insecurity and unemployment.  

While Ticos are dissatisfied with their government, they remain disinterested in politics. Barley 3 percent of Costa Ricans are active in the country’s political parties. On Wednesday afternoon, presidential candidates exhorted people to become more involved in their government but offered few specifics. 

UNDP researcher Gabriela Mata noted that there was a gap between Costa Ricans’ comfort with their domestic lives and their wariness about the public sphere. Despite their high expectations from the government, 80 percent of Ticos reported that their families helped them more with a problem than the government, which scored barely 10 percent.

The family in Costa Rica is also changing. More than 70 percent of marriages today are civil, almost 70 percent of mothers have children out of wedlock, and 34 percent say they have a close family member who is gay or lesbian.

Ninety percent of Costa Ricans said they were happy with their close relationships and families while only 50 percent said they were satisfied with their income.

Ticos believe that poverty is on the rise, despite signs that show it remains at 20 percent, where it has rested for nearly two decades. While the percentage of Costa Ricans living in poverty remains stable, the actual number has risen as the country has grown to 4.3 million inhabitants.

Trust remains high between family members, with a score of 9 out of 10, compared to 6 out of 10 when it comes to their neighbors. Costa Ricans are known for their outgoing nature but few extend that courtesy to trust. More than 60 percent of Costa Ricans said that others would take advantage of them if given the chance.  

But there remains a strong sense of solidarity among Costa Ricans, the report said. Over 60 percent surveyed said they were willing to pay more taxes to help those in need, and nearly 60 percent perform voluntary work or donate resources to their community.

Finally, the report noted that the country’s rapid urbanization has strained Ticos’ ability to coexist with their neighbors. Today, 73 percent of Costa Ricans live in urban areas, according to the UNDP report.

The U.N. report suggested that improved public transportation and other common spaces like parks would help tear down some of the barriers that stress people living in dense areas.

The U.N. body recommended the country focus on the basic rights to good public education, access to health services and guaranteeing fair pay and decent jobs as the ways to address the country’s ills. 

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