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For Most in EU, Life Is Not Improving

For Most in EU, Life Is Not Improving

Life ratings in Greece and Spain have declined the most since 2008

by Anna Manchin

Brussels -- As the European Union struggles with a continuing economic crisis, residents' life evaluation ratings show little or no improvement, and in some countries, they have worsened further. Life ratings have declined the most in Cyprus, Spain, and France in 2012 compared with last year. In the handful of countries where life ratings have increased -- Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, and Portugal -- the percentage who are "thriving" is still among the lowest in Europe.


An average of 37% of EU residents are thriving in 2012, while the majority continue to be "struggling" (54%), and 10% are "suffering." EU residents are as likely to be thriving now as they were in 2011 (38%) -- and significantly less likely than they were in 2008.

Gallup classifies respondents as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. People are considered thriving if they rate their current lives a 7 or higher and their lives in five years an 8 or higher and "suffering" if they rate either their current or future lives a 4 or lower. All others are considered "struggling."

Life Ratings Vary Widely Throughout the European Union

There is a clear divide in Europe between the North, where a majority of residents are thriving, and the South and East, where the vast majority are struggling and suffering.

Residents in northern and western European countries -- generally wealthy welfare states with relatively strong economies that have either recovered or were scarcely affected by the 2008 economic downturn -- continue to be among the most likely to be thriving. Majorities in Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Ireland, and the United Kingdom rate their lives highly enough to be considered thriving. In the rest of Western Europe, more than a third, but less than half, are thriving.

The picture is very different in countries that were hard hit and poorly equipped to weather the consequences of the global financial crisis. In contrast to western Europe, more people are suffering than thriving in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Greece. Suffering is highest in Bulgaria (39%), Hungary (32%), Romania (27%), and Greece (26%). Suffering is also high in Latvia and Portugal, at 22% each. These numbers are on par with the highest suffering rates worldwide in 2011.


Across Spain, Greece, and Portugal, protests against austerity measures continue and occasionally turn violent. Last week, tens of thousands protested salary and pension cuts in front of Spain's parliament, and nearly half a million across Portugal have marched to protest raising social security contributions.

Greece, Spain Show Most Deterioration Since 2008 Global Financial Collapse

Life ratings in Greece and Spain have declined the most since 2008, with the percentage thriving tumbling about 30 percentage points in each country. Thriving has also dropped significantly in Ireland, Italy, and Finland.



Bottom Line

Gallup's global surveys indicate that for most European residents, life is little improved -- and for many far worse -- in 2012 compared with the start of the global financial crisis. But, life ratings continue to vary widely across EU nations. In northern and western Europe, residents continue to rate their lives relatively highly. However, in several hard-hit eastern and southern European countries, many are suffering and bleak about their prospects.

In countries that have experienced large declines in life ratings, the situation can be especially precarious. Residents' personal well-being is one of the crucial indicators of social stability and is important for leaders to monitor -- particularly for EU leaders who must continue to manage difficult economic conditions.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews or phone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, per country per year. Interviews in 2011 and 2012 were conducted in 27 EU member states. In 2008, interviews were conducted in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK; in 2007 in the Czech Republic, Greece, and Romania and Spain. EU averages are population-weighted averages based on results from 27 EU member states. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±2.2 percentage points to ±3.8 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. 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.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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