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EBRD Survey Reveals Surprising Surge in Life Satisfaction in Emerging Europe

There has been a strong rise in average life satisfaction across the Emerging Europe, Central Asia and the southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) regions, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (EBRD’s) latest Transition Report

Despite the traumas over the last seven years – which saw first the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, then the war in Ukraine and a severe cost of living crisis – the EBRD’s research shows a broad-based increase in life satisfaction in the region that it attributes to a range of factors including higher incomes, better jobs and improved health.

This has seen countries in the region catch up with their peers in Western Europe in terms of life satisfaction. “[O]nce differences in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita had been controlled for, people in transition countries were, on average, no longer less satisfied with their lives than people in Germany and Italy,” said the report. 

“There used to be a big happiness gap in our countries until 2016, even taking into account the income income level of the country and the family. Now it’s gone,” commented EBRD chief economist Beata Javorcik in an interview with bne IntelliNews. “The improvement has been broad based. It’s true of men and women, all ages, urban and rural populations.” 

The results of the latest Life in Transition Survey (LITS) follow a steady increase in happiness levels in many of the post-communist countries of Central, Eastern and Southeast Europe and the former Soviet Union. This is in stark contrast to the beginning of the transition process when they were clustered near the bottom of global league tables such as the World Happiness Report. 

“[F]or many people in the EBRD regions, it seems that the transition process is increasing overall satisfaction with life,” the report said. 

The report identifies a variety of potential reasons. “One possibility is that people’s answers have been infuenced by growing prosperity. LiTS IV was launched at a time when most economic aggregates were moving in a favourable direction, with supply chains reopening and household demand bouncing back following the relaxation of Covid restrictions,” it said. 

“However, two other issues are probably also influencing the results: improvements in the health of the population and favourable developments in labour markets (including a shift towards more pleasant and higher-skilled jobs).” 

Health is another important indicator, and the report finds people’s assessments of their own health have improved significantly over time. 

“The new EU member states are now on a par with the G7 countries when it comes to self-reported health status. There used to be a difference that emerged in the mid-40s; now there is only a difference at the age of 70 plus,” said Javorcik.

Regional variations 

Central Asian countries, despite lower GDP per capita, scored high on life satisfaction indicators. At the top of the table was the post-socialist space’s poorest economy, Tajikistan, followed by neighbouring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The report notes this is a “perennially surprising result, given that GDP per capita is usually positively correlated with happiness in cross-country regressions and these three countries are still among the poorest in the EBRD regions”. 

Two of the region’s smallest and richest economies – Slovenia and Estonia – were next placed. 

Overall, noteworthy increases are observed in Southeast and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, with the rise in life satisfaction spanning all age groups, genders and urban-rural divides.

“One region that has made substantial progress since 2016 is South-eastern Europe (which includes both (i) European Union member states Bulgaria and Romania, and (ii) the Western Balkans), with nearly all countries recording significant increases in satisfaction (the sole exception being Albania, where that score has remained more or less unchanged),” says the report.

At the other end of the scale, Lebanon is facing a socio-economic crisis that is reflected in low happiness levels in the country. The percentage of respondents satisfied with life was also relatively low in Tunisia, Lithuania, Turkey and Hungary. 

Ukraine, now almost two years into a devastating war, was not included in the survey. However, residents of Gaza and the West Bank were among those with the highest life satisfaction in the survey carried out before the outbreak of intense fighting this autumn.

Source : Intellinews