Background note, 8 November 2004

More home-owners in Slovakia than in the rest of EU

This European Quality of Life (EQLS) survey was carried out by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in the EU25 and three candidate countries (Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey) in May-August 2003. The EQLS represents an ambitious attempt to explore quality of life in a wide range of countries. It is a major source of information, highlighting the opportunities and challenges the EU faces in the light of recent enlargement. The survey provides an accurate picture of the social situation in the enlarged Union, a picture that includes both objective and subjective elements. At the same time, it should be noted that there are some limitations to the data. While the sample sizes of around 1,000 per country provide a general population profile, they are too small to allow for detailed analysis of sub-groups, such as immigrants or single parent families. Furthermore, although the wide range of topics covered by the survey is on the one hand a clear advantage, it also means that none of the topics could be treated in great depth. Some of the dimensions of quality of life are measured with a narrower set of indicators than one would use in highly-specialised surveys. However, the strength of the survey is that it provides a synthesis of information on the main aspects of quality of life, both objective and subjective.

Improving health status a crucial task in the new Member States

Being in good health is an important factor for enjoying a high quality of life. In the new Member States and the candidate countries, the self-rated health status is on average worse than in the EU15. Compared to the latter, poor health status is reported 2.5 times more often by the citizens living in the new Member States, and two times more in the candidate countries, respectively. About one third of the population in the new Member States reports having a long-standing illness, compared to one fifth in the former EU15. People living in post-communist countries report health problems more frequently than those living in Cyprus, Malta or Turkey. These findings for individual health correspond with widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of the health services and with reported difficulties in access to medical care in post-communist countries.

NMS citizens less satisfied with quality of life, but equally optimistic

The report found that subjective well-being is lower in the new Member States than in the former EU15, reflecting gaps found in objective living conditions, especially economic resources and living standards, working conditions and health. In most EU15 countries, the least satisfied groups are still more satisfied than the most satisfied groups in the new Member States and the candidate countries. Material living conditions are of paramount importance for citizens’ subjective well-being, but aspects of ‘loving’ and ‘being’ also impact on how satisfied people are with their lives.

More house owners in the new Member States but worse housing conditions

One in five households in the new Member States and one in three in the candidate countries lack an indoor flushing toilet or have housing problems such as rot in windows, damp and leaks, the survey reveals. Fewer than 10% of households in the former EU15 face such problems. The housing conditions confirm the general picture of poorer living conditions in the new Member States and three candidate countries. By and large, living space is smaller, homes are less comfortable, and the neighbourhood less secure. However, home ownership is much more common in the new Member States and the candidate countries. Nearly 75% live in their own dwelling compared to 60% in the EU15.

Strong family ties

In all 28 countries, families and friends are shown to be a crucial factor in providing social integration and support. In both groups of countries, a huge majority of the population – around 80-95% – can count on help from relatives, friends or neighbours when personal problems arise; and in all countries, people rely primarily on family members. In general, support from family members is found to be more important in the new Member States and the candidate countries than in the EU15. Strong family ties in the new Member States and the candidate countries are also indicated by a higher frequency of contacts with other family members. Here, around 85% have frequent contact with parents or children, compared to 72% in the EU15.


A single standard questionnaire was used. Interviews were face-to-face and the unit of interview was the sampled individual although certain items relating to characteristics of the household were included in the questionnaire. The questionnaire was originally drafted in English by a consortium of research institutes and was then translated into the national languages of the Member States, using back-translation methods to check the accuracy of the translation. It was designed to fit into a 35-minute interview in light of the available fieldwork budget. The questionnaire covers a broad spectrum of life domains with an emphasis on employment, housing, family, social and political participation, quality of society and subjective well-being.

The fieldwork was carried out by Intomart, a European private sector data collection agency, which coordinates a network of partner agencies spanning the 28 countries. Methods of sample selection varied but consisted mainly of ‘random walk’ methods to select households and random selection of individuals aged 18 and over within households. In all countries, the sampling method was designed to provide a fully randomised sample. The overall response rate was 58% but response rates varied widely, ranging from under 35% in Ireland and Spain to a reported 91% in Germany. For 23 of the countries, the achieved sample size was around 1,000 cases. For five smaller states (Cyprus, Malta, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Estonia) the sample size was approximately 600. The total achieved sample consisted of 26,257 cases. Sample data were re-weighted by age, sex and region to conform to national population patterns. After data collection the data were checked extensively by the Social Science Centre in Berlin (WZB). More than 50 macro-indicators were added at this stage in order to provide a linkage between respondents’ reports (e.g. household income) and the social situation of the country (e.g. GDP per capita).

Next steps

Analysis of results from the survey has begun with a review of the main findings in relation to country and demographic characteristics. This provides the basis for a descriptive report of how countries differ in some respects, and how the results are related to the characteristics of social groups. There are no extensive attempts to explain why such differences arise. More detailed analysis is underway to examine the data on more specific themes and to improve understanding of the results. Four reports are nearing completion on:

  • Quality of life, subjective well-being and perception of society
  • Households and family, social networks and community life
  • Living standards and resources, income and employment, subsistence economy, deprivation and exclusion
  • Housing and local environment

Further in-depth analysis is being commissioned and papers based on the analytical reports will be published from 2005 onwards.

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The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions is a tripartite EU body, whose role is to provide key actors in social policy making with findings, knowledge and advice drawn from comparative research. The Foundation was established by Council Regulation EEC No 1365/75 of 26 May 1975. The Foundation is located in Dublin, Ireland.

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