Social cohesion and well-being in the EU

Joint report and event with Bertelsmann Stiftung

The united Europe is currently experiencing the effects of the most severe economic and financial crisis of the last 70 years. It is still unclear what its deeper implications will be, or what long-term repercussions it will have on the societies of EU Member States: How will it affect social cohesion? What impact will the crisis have on quality of life and subjective well-being in Europe? What is clear, however, is that in view of the challenges ahead, a well-targeted and precisely calibrated Europe-wide social policy is needed to counter the polarizing and fragmenting forces in Europe.

Substantial challenges call for substantial efforts. It is against this background that Eurofound and the Bertelsmann Stiftung decided to pool their expertise and to jointly explore the relationships between social cohesion and subjective well-being in the European Member States. 

The report found that social cohesion enhances people’s well-being in four of the five domains: better psychological functioning (strongest effect), less negative affect, higher life evaluation and higher social well-being. The contribution of social cohesion to subjective well-being arises mainly in the domains social relations and orientation to the common good, which perform very similarly. A high level of emotional attachment of citizens to major societal institutions (connectedness) seems to be of secondary importance, as compared to the other two cohesion domains.

The positive effect of social cohesion is felt more strongly in the richer (West European) part of Europe, than in the less rich one. In the less affluent Member States of the European Union, life evaluation – life satisfaction and happiness – is enhanced by strong cohesion, but other dimensions of individual well-being are not.

The report concludes that social cohesion has proved to be a positive factor for many aspects of citizens’ well-being. If the goal of public policy is to make a society more ‘liveable’ then the promotion of well-being through building of social cohesion appears a smart as well as inclusive approach. The strengthening of social networks, trust and tolerance and motivating people to show solidarity, to obey social rules and to engage in civil society are promising roads towards higher well-being. These are, of course, challenging goals, particularly regarding increasing trust in others. But reducing tensions or lack of trust between social groups can improve well-being for all and is an established element of social policy. The promotion of civic participation is a key route to promoting not only the sense of a common good, but also connectedness. This is particularly the case for the EU-15 countries.

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