Life in transition
30 June, 2011
Life in transition

‘How satisfied are you with your life?’ That’s one of the big questions addressed by the second Life in Transition Survey conducted jointly by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank in late 2010. It surveyed almost 39,000 households in 34 countries globe over including both developed and transitional economies to learn how people’s lives have been affected by the global economic crisis and its aftermath. 

 

The aim is to gain a better understanding of how citizens,

primarily of former Communist countries, have been affected by the recent crisis as well as the two decades of social, political and economic transition following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In more than half of the countries surveyed, the majority of respondents said the economic crisis had affected them ‘a great deal’ or ‘rather perceptibly’.

In transition countries, 70% of respondent households who reported being affected by the crisis had to cut back on staple food purchases and spending on health care – twice the proportion of crisis-affected households in western European countries.

But despite this dramatic deterioration in material well-being, life satisfaction levels were remarkably resilient – 43% of respondents considered themselves ‘satisfied with my life now’ as against 44% in 2006.

Optimism about the future fell from 55% to 49% – but it remains significantly higher, on average, in transition countries than in western Europe.

The survey revealed although not dramatic but still declines in support for democracy and the market in transition countries – and a decline in trust in banks, financial institutions and foreign investors. Yet trust in financial institutions remains much higher than in western Europe.

Meanwhile, despite a belief that levels of corruption had not improved, general trust in other people grew across the region, as did satisfaction with government services.

Across the region, women generally seem to be a little happier than men. The relationship between life satisfaction and age is also interesting. It first decreases with age and then begins climbing again – the survey suggests at about the age of 44.

In 2006, more than 55% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘Children who are born now will have a better life than my generation’. In 2010, this fell to 49%. Yet it remains significantly higher in transition countries than in western Europe, where respondents have higher living standards but little expectation that their children will do better.

Despite the effects of the economic crisis, there is relatively little appetite for a return to the past. But while support for market economics and democracy has held up well compared to 2006, there’s been a fall in support in some countries, including all the new regional entrants to the European Union except Bulgaria.

In general, people do not believe corruption has fallen in the past four years. And in most countries, the reported prevalence of corruption – paying bribes etc – is in fact higher than it is perceived to be. There’s unanimity in the region about which institutions are the most corrupt – top of the list are traffic police, followed by health care officials and the civil courts. The highest perceived level of corruption is in Azerbaijan, where it has rocketed upwards since 2006. The greatest perception of a reduction in corruption is in Georgia, where 78% say it has fallen, and only 9% believe it has increased.

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