Brussels, 3 March 2004
Quality of life, a key priority for citizens across the enlarged European Union
Although differences in living conditions are considerable, values and priorities determining quality of life across Europe are not very different. This is the main conclusion from a joint report on living conditions and quality of life by the European Commission and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Having a good job is ranked as the highest factor for a good life across Europe, and the fight against unemployment is universally perceived to be one of the most important means of improving the economic and social conditions of family life.
"With this report, we have for the first time an analysis of social conditions across all current and future Member States, plus candidate countries. It provides an interesting picture of 'social Europe' on the eve of enlargement." says Margot Wallström, acting Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs.
This report is a joint research project of the European Commission and the Foundation, and it is the first of series of comparative studies from the Foundation, monitoring the quality of life in Europe. This work completes the Foundation's monitoring tools on industrial relations and working conditions in Europe.
"Overall, the results of the survey support an integrated employment policy, focusing on higher employment rates to achieve better quality jobs," said Willy Buschak, the Foundation's acting Director.
The report found that overall life satisfaction in Europe of 28 is strongly linked to income level and GDP per capita. Low levels of traditional economic indicators in the 13 acceding and candidate countries are matched by low scores regarding life satisfaction. Having said that, feelings of social exclusion are not more prevalent in the acceding countries; 64% of the Acceding countries population (compared with 69% in EU 15) see themselves as socially integrated despite more widespread economic deprivation.
The majority of Europeans throughout the 28 current and future Member States agree that having a job provides not only income but also social contacts, self-esteem and a better quality of life. Those who have been unemployed for at least two years over the previous five years report lower satisfaction with life in general, with family life, with social life, and with health than those who have been in continuous employment.
However, difficult working conditions have a detrimental effect on several areas of satisfaction. Those who work overtime, in high intensity jobs, or in jobs that are physically or psychologically demanding, report lower satisfaction levels than those who work under favourable conditions. About 20% of working Europeans report disrupted social relations due to work. This percentage is higher in the acceding and candidate countries (27%) than in the EU 15 (19%). Furthermore, 61% of those who report having psychologically burdensome jobs, 54% of those with physically demanding jobs, and 49% of those working at a high intensity claim to have difficulties in their relations with family and friends due to work. More than one in three of those who work 48 hours or more report having difficult social relations, while this number falls to less than one in five for those with normal working weeks. However, the fact of working part-time or full-time seems to have less of an effect on relations with family and friends.
Long-term unemployment is widely perceived to be the root cause of poverty, followed by alcoholism, sickness, family break-up and drug abuse. Cuts in social welfare are cited as an important determinant of poverty in the accession and candidate countries, while EU 15 citizens are more likely to see lack of education as an important cause. Alcoholism is more frequently mentioned in the accession and candidate countries as a factor leading to poverty while drug abuse is identified more often by EU 15 respondents. When asked about the general causes of poverty and social exclusion, social injustice is perceived as the main cause throughout the EU 25, although only 35% of EU 15 respondents hold this view compared with an absolute majority in the accession and candidate countries. 21% of the unemployed and 18% of the retired in the acceding countries compared to only 13% of employed respondents report a lack of social integration. Most Europeans also believe unemployment to be the most important reason for poverty or social exclusion (most frequently cited factor in nine out of the 13 accession and candidate countries and in 11 of the 15 EU Member States).
'Having' (income and material conditions), 'loving' (human relationships and belonging), and 'being' (education, psychological well-being) are essential issues in determining a good life. Values and priorities are similar across the 28 countries: The survey found that good health, sufficient income and a family are the three main factors contributing to a good life for the majority of Europeans. Most Europeans also rely on family support for care and as a buffer against social exclusion.
The report is an integrated summary of the findings from a series of seven comparative studies, which analyse the results of several Eurobarometer surveys on quality of life, living conditions, and related areas in the 13 Acceding and candidate countries and 15 Member States of the European Union, carried out by the Commission. The report looks at quality of life as a multi-dimensional view of human well-being, and aims to go beyond a narrow economic focus on income and material conditions as components of welfare, covering dimensions such as income, deprivation, working conditions, perceptions of social exclusion, satisfaction with various domains of life, and perceptions of certain issues related to migration, health, caring and family issues.
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