People from the post-communist countries of eastern Europe are generally happier with their lives now than they were 10 years ago, according to a comprehensive new survey from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
The findings, previewed in the EBRD’s Transition Report 2016-17 in November, now appear in full in the latest report of the Bank’s Life in Transition Survey (LiTS), a far-reaching survey carried out over the past decade and designed to show how people’s lives have been shaped by change and upheaval since the fall of communism.
This third survey, after earlier iterations in 2006 and 2010, is the largest so far and questioned 51,000 households in 34 countries*, mainly from transition countries in central and eastern Europe as well as Turkey. It also covered Cyprus and Greece for the first time. For the sake of comparison with more prosperous western neighbours, LiTS III was also carried out in Germany and Italy.
The new survey reveals that the “happiness gap” between the transition region and western European comparators has finally closed.
Despite suffering a major impact from the global financial crisis, respondents in the transition region are also more optimistic about their future than their Western neighbours.
However, they continue to have major concerns about inequality. In his foreword to the new report, EBRD Chief Economist Sergei Guriev writes: “LiTS III data…show that people in the transition region almost uniformly think that the gap between the rich and the poor should be reduced – much more so than in 2010.”
Responses to the assertion “All things considered, I am satisfied with my life now” revealed that the 10 “happiest” countries are from Central Asia and central Europe and the Baltic states while Russia, eastern Europe and the Caucasus and south-eastern Europe rank lowest in the life satisfaction index.
Greece, shown elsewhere in the report to have been hit particularly hard by its economic crisis, ranked lowest on the happiness scale of all the countries in the survey, followed by Moldova, Ukraine and Armenia.
The levels of satisfaction reflect the varying extent to which people have access to goods and services and whether or not they can afford extras. For example, more than 80 per cent of respondents in Estonia, Kosovo, Poland and Russia report having an internet connection at home. At the other end of the scale, less than 20 per cent of respondents in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Tajikistan say their family can afford a one-week holiday each year.
Generally, people in the region appeared to be most happy about the standards of education available in their countries and were least happy with the state of their local roads.
The report provides new insight into the extent to which people are tolerant of minorities, including the fact that while respondents appear more tolerant of other people’s sexuality compared with in 2010, more 50 per cent of people in the transition region would still prefer not to have gay or lesbian neighbours.
About a third of respondents in Russia and in central Europe and the Baltic states reported negative feelings towards immigrants or foreign workers. This compared with the 85 per cent of people in south-eastern Europe, and 89 and 80 per cent in Germany and Italy, respectively, who said they have no issue with having immigrants or foreign workers as neighbours.
On average, people in the transition region have become slightly less tolerant of the presence of immigrants in their countries since 2010. Asked whether immigrants made a valuable contribution to their country, on average only about 25 per cent responded positively.
In addition to the section in the survey on life satisfaction, the report also focuses on levels of corruption and the gender gap in the transition region. A chapter on Greece shows just how hard the Greek economic crisis hit the people in the country.
*The “transition region” in this report refers to the EBRD’s countries of operations that are covered in the third round of the Life in Transition Survey (LiTS): Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, FYR Macedonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, the Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
It also includes Cyprus and Greece, which became recipient member countries of the EBRD in May 2014 and March 2015, respectively. The Bank’s involvement in both countries is expected to be temporary, with no new investment after the end of 2020.
The survey was also implemented in the Czech Republic. Please note that the EBRD ceased making new investments in the Czech Republic in 2007 but still manages a portfolio in the country.
Western Europe refers to the comparator countries – Germany and Italy – which allow us to benchmark the transition region against some advanced market economies, thereby giving a clearer perspective on the remaining challenges facing transition countries.