WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Romania, like several nations in Eastern Europe, is now facing an economic hangover: strong GDP expansion in 2007 and 2008 followed by anticipated contraction in 2009. Gallup finds that the economic downturn has likely affected Romanian attitudes toward the benefits of hard work. When surveyed in April of this year, 39% of Romanians say they believe they can get ahead by working hard, a steep decline from the 71% who said so in July 2005. A majority (54%) say people cannot get ahead by working hard, more than double the proportion who said so in 2005.
The Gallup data underscore the extent to which the notion of social mobility through hard work -- or pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps -- has lost considerable traction in Romania over the past four years, even as the country itself was on the rise. Aside from this year's forecast of GDP contraction, the Romanian economy had been on the increase over the past few years and was one of Europe's fastest growing. In fact, a World Bank report released in May 2008 celebrated the surge in worker productivity and living standards across Eastern Europe. That assessment came in stark contrast to Soviet-era Romania, where extreme economic centralization undermined personal worker initiative and ultimately hurt worker productivity.
Gallup finds a strong relationship between respondents' attitudes toward their economic futures and their belief in social mobility. Respondents who say the Romanian economy is getting worse were less likely to believe that if they worked hard they would get ahead. The same is true for respondents who say their living standards are getting worse. Gallup found this relationship in April 2009, amid the decline, but did not see it in May 2007, during Romania's economic growth.
Interestingly, Gallup found that in July 2005, respondents who said their economic futures were getting worse were more likely to believe if they worked hard, they would get ahead. Gallup could not analyze the relationship with respondents who say their national economy and living standards are getting better because so few said so in April 2009.
Improving Productivity in Romania
The World Bank report from May 2008 pointed to certain areas in which reform could drive further worker productivity such as promoting good governance and deepening the financial sector. One particular blight on good governance -- corruption -- has plagued Romania for years. In June 2007 (shortly after Romania joined the European Union) and again in February 2008, the European Commission demanded that the Romanian government to do more to fight corruption.
Gallup surveyed Romanians about corruption in businesses and in government and found perceptions of both to be high (more than 8 in 10 respondents agree that corruption is widespread in business and in government) and relatively unchanged between 2005 and 2009. However -- perhaps surprisingly -- Gallup found that corruption had a positive relationship with attitudes toward social mobility. In July 2005 and again in May 2007, respondents who agreed that corruption is widespread in business and in government were more likely to believe that they can get ahead by working hard. By April 2009, amid economic decline, that relationship had reversed.
So what about the relationship between confidence in other areas of governance and social mobility? Gallup also compared Romanians' confidence in their national government, their judicial system and courts, and their financial institutions and banks. None of these variables had as consistent an effect on attitudes toward social mobility as did respondents' attitudes toward their economic futures. If economic attitudes continue to deteriorate, so too could attitudes toward social mobility, and with them possibly worker productivity.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 18 and older, between July 2005 and April 2009 in Romania. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.75 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.