Quality of life indicators - leisure and social interactions

Data from October 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article is part of the Eurostat online publication Quality of life indicators, providing recent statistics on the quality of life in the European Union (EU). The publication presents a detailed analysis of many different dimensions of quality of life, complementing the indicator traditionally used as the measure of economic and social development, gross domestic product (GDP).

The present article focuses on the fifth dimension of '8+1' quality of life indicators framework, leisure and social interactions. Leisure, the time people spend outside their productive activities, has a major impact on their sense of well-being, happiness and life satisfaction. Social interactions, a related but conceptually different issue, can be considered as «social capital» for both individuals and society, affecting people's quality of life in numerous ways. Apart from its basic function of meeting the natural human need for socialising, more frequent and more rewarding social interaction is also associated with better health, improved chances of finding a job and even of living in a better neighbourhood (with less crime, for instance). More specifically, having someone to rely on in case of need is particularly important; it was chosen as a headline indicator for the United Nations World Happiness report.

Figure 1: Share of population never going to cinema by income situation, 2006 (%), Source: Eurostat 2006 ad-hoc module 'Social participation' (PS010)
Table1: Frequency of getting together with relatives and friends, 2006 (%), Source: Eurostat 2006 ad-hoc module 'Social participation' (PS010)
Figure 2: Percentage of population who has contacts with friends less often than once a month or never, by income situation, 2006 (%), Source: Eurostat 2006 ad-hoc module 'Social participation' (PS010)
Figure 3: Participation in activities of recreational groups or organisations during the last year by age group, 2006 (%), Source: Eurostat 2006 ad-hoc module 'Social participation' (PS010)
Figure 4: Participation in informal voluntary activities during the last year by income situation, 2006 (%), Source: Eurostat 2006 ad-hoc module 'Social participation' (PS010)
Figure 5: Population unable to ask any relative, friend or neighbour for help by income situation, 2006 (%), Source: Eurostat 2006 ad-hoc module 'Social participation' (PS010)

Main statistical findings

Leisure and social interactions in the context of quality of life

Leisure, the time people have outside their productive activities (either paid or unpaid) and how they can and choose to spend it, has a significant impact on their subjective notion of well-being, their happiness and their life satisfaction [1]. In this context, social interactions constitute a «social capital» for individuals and society as a whole and affect quality of life in a number of different ways. Besides the natural human need for socialising, more numerous and rewarding social interactions are associated with factors that lead to a better quality of life, such as better health and higher likelihood of finding a job. They can even help make life better in the neighbourhood one lives in (by reducing the incidence of crime for example) [2]. In particular, having someone to rely on in case of need has been identified as an important determinant of quality of life and was a headline indicator in the analysis in the World Happiness Report.

Leisure

The average time spent on leisure activities provides a rough quantitative assessment of leisure as a factor that affects quality of life. However, data on the use of time for leisure activities are not widely available. On the other hand, an account of the type of leisure activities to which people have access provides a qualitative insight in the context of quality of life, especially because it also shows the constraints people are under in choosing how to use their leisure time. Thus, the frequency with which people engage in more expensive leisure activities (compared to spending time at home for example), such as going to the cinema, attending live performances, visiting cultural sites and attending live sports events is indicative of this access-related aspect. In 2006, a survey including these questions showed that most people (between 54.6 % for cinema and 70.1 % for live sport events) in Europe had not spent time on such leisure activities within the 12 months before the study.

This situation is more common amongst people at risk of poverty (i.e. people whose equalized disposable income was less than 60 % of the median for the whole population). These people were considerably more likely to have not spent time on such leisure activities in the course of the last year than the total population. In the EU-27, on average, 69.5 % of people at risk of poverty said that they had not been to the cinema, compared to 54.6 % of the total population (see Figure 1). The figures for live performances were 73.5 % for those at risk of poverty, compared to 58.2 % for the total population; for visiting cultural sites 74.4 % for those at risk of poverty compared to 57.6 % for the total population; and for live sports events 79.7 % for those at risk of poverty compared to 70.1 % for the total population.

People at risk of poverty in Bulgaria had almost universally not spent any time on any of these activities during the year preceding the survey. However, it is more likely that this is indicative of a broader trend in Bulgaria, as more than 85.0 % of the total population had not spent any time on any of these leisure activities during the year preceding the survey. At the other end of the scale, Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden and Finland, but also Germany, often have the lowest numbers of people at risk of poverty who had not spent any time on any of these leisure activities.

Social interactions

An assessment of social interactions should distinguish between three different but interwoven aspects: (a) activities with people, that is, being in contact or doing things with family, friends or colleagues and the satisfaction that one derives from these personal relationships; (b) activities for people, that is, one’s involvement in voluntary and charitable activities beyond one’s work; and (c) supportive relationships, shown by one’s ability to get help and personal support in case of need.

Activities with people: getting together with relatives and friends

This indicator measures the reported frequency of getting together with relatives and friends. Research has shown that the subjective well-being of people who have frequent social contact with family, friends and relatives is greater than those of people who do not. Social relationships have also been shown to operate as a buffer against the negative effects of stress on well-being [3].

In general, most people in the EU-27 reported getting together with relatives every week (35.8 %, see Table 1). Exceptions were some of the Mediterranean countries (Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal), where most people said they were in contact with relatives on a daily basis. These countries had the highest proportions of the population meeting relatives daily, reflecting the difference in social structures, norms and customs between the Mediterranean and other European countries with regard to family ties within extended families. Within this group, Cyprus had the highest proportion of people meeting relatives daily (48.2 %), while Italy had the lowest (25.2 %). Similarly, most people in the EU-27 reported getting together with friends every week (38.3 %), with the exceptions again being Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Portugal where most people reported getting together with friends daily. This is also the case for Bulgaria.

On average, 15.5 % of people in the EU-27 reported getting together with relatives less often than once a month or not at all in 2006 (also shown in Table 1). At 23.5 %, Estonia recorded the highest share of people who never got together with relatives, or only did so less than once a month, followed by Latvia (21.9 %), Austria (20.1 %) and Lithuania (19.8 %).

Cyprus, Greece and Portugal had the highest proportions of people who saw friends most frequently (on a daily basis), at 54.4 %, 45.6 % and 44.0 % respectively. On the other hand, on average, 10.0 % of the EU-27 population got together with friends less often than once a month, or even not at all in 2006. They therefore could have experienced stronger feelings of loneliness. This proportion was higher in Poland (17.1 % of people seldom met their friends), Malta (15.7 %), Spain (13.4 %) and France (11.7 %).

Risk of poverty associated with rare contacts with friends

In 2006, in all EU Member States, among those at risk of poverty more people had been in contact with friends less often than once a month, or not at all during the year preceding the survey, than among the rest of the population. In the EU-27, the proportion of people at risk of poverty who had been in contact with friends that rarely was 19.6 %, while the proportion for the general population was 12.8 %. Bulgaria (see Figure 2) had the widest gap between those at risk of poverty and the general population in these terms (58.7 % vs 29.4 %), while in Hungary it was virtually non-existent (8.4 % vs 8.2 %). The risk of poverty is therefore associated with conditions that adversely affect subjective well-being and quality of life. This means that people who are at risk of poverty accumulate multiple deprivations.

Activities for people: participation in activities of recreational groups or organisations diminishes with age

About one out of every five Europeans (19.6 %) participates in activities of recreational groups or organisations (2006 data) (see Figure 3). Such groups may include sports groups, hobby associations or leisure clubs. The figures varied significantly, however, from one Member State to another, ranging from 37.1 % in Sweden to only 1.6 % in Bulgaria. While these large differences between countries may be attributed to different cultural or social structures (i.e. societies which favour more non-organised leisure and recreational time than others), it is interesting that in all countries except France and Germany, this kind of activity decreases sharply for people aged 65 and over, compared with people aged 18 to 64. Active ageing policies can help reduce this gap.

The Nordic countries and Belgium and Luxembourg had the highest proportion of people aged 18 to 64 participating in such activities (reaching 39.4 % in Sweden), while Bulgaria again had the lowest (1.4 %), compared with the EU average of 19.7 %. At 41.4 %, the Netherlands had the highest proportion of elderly people (aged 65 years and over) participating in activities organised by recreational groups or organisations (but the figures are not reliable). Bulgaria again had the lowest proportion (1.5 %). The EU-27 average for elderly people was 17.9 %.

Participation in informal voluntary activities diminishes when being at risk of poverty

This indicator measures the proportion of people who participated in informal voluntary activities to help someone outside their household during the last 12 months before the survey. Such activities include cooking for others, taking care of people in hospital or in their home and taking people for a walk or doing their shopping for them. In 2006, on average, 35.0 % of people in the EU-27 engaged in such activities, with wide variation among Member States (see Figure 4). In Slovenia, the proportion was double the EU average at 69.2 %, whereas in Denmark and Bulgaria it was only around 3.0 %. However, the reasons for these low percentages may be very different for the two countries.

In all Member States except the Netherlands, a lower proportion of people among those whose income was less than 60.0 % of the median for the whole population were involved in such activities than among the rest of the population. In other words, people at risk of poverty engaged less frequently in voluntary activities to help other people who were in need of support. The difference between those at risk of poverty and the general population engaging in such voluntary activities was greatest in Cyprus, Slovenia and Luxembourg and least in Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic.

The comparability of data across Member States should be considered with caution. This is because the definition of voluntary activities varies substantially from one Member State to another.

Supportive relationships

It has been shown [4] that life satisfaction, a subjective indicator of quality of life, improves with the availability of practical, moral and financial support from family and friends.

In 2006, 13.8 % of the EU-27 population was not able to ask any relative, friend or neighbour for help (see Figure 5). Only in Italy (15.5 %) and Bulgaria (14.7 %) were proportions of the population above the EU average in the same situation. At the other end of the scale, only 2.8 % to 2.9 % of the population was in this situation in the Netherlands, Slovakia and Denmark, while for most Member States the proportion was well below half the EU-27 average.

Risk of poverty associated with weaker supportive relationships

In the vast majority of Member States, more people at risk of poverty, that is, people whose equivalised income was lower than 60 % of the median, had a limited ability to ask a relative, friend or neighbour for help than the general population. In Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, the proportion of people at risk of poverty under this constraint was about 10 percentage points higher than among the general population. One in four people at risk of poverty in Bulgaria, and almost one in five in the Czech Republic could not ask family, friends or neighbours for help. In Slovakia and Finland, there was hardly any difference between the proportions of the general population and of those at risk of poverty without access to such support, while in Malta the former was even slightly higher than the proportion of people at risk of poverty in the same situation.

Conclusions

Evidence from 2006 suggests that people at risk of poverty spent less time than the general population engaging in expensive leisure activities, such as going to the cinema, attending live performances, visiting cultural sites and attending live sports events. Moreover, higher proportions of people at risk of poverty benefited only rarely or not at all from social interactions, such as contacts with friends, participation in informal voluntary activities and supportive relationships, compared to the general population. These findings suggest that the risk of poverty is linked to factors that have a negative impact on subjective well-being and quality of life and that the section of the population facing that risk is more likely to suffer from multiple deprivations. People who are 65 or older are also less likely to attend leisure activities outside the house and engage less in informal voluntary activities compared to younger ones. However, the percentage of people able to ask a friend or relative for help is the same for the two age groups.

Data sources and availability

The leisure topic of the quality of life framework covers the quantitative and qualitative aspects of leisure, as well as access assessment. The data used in this section are primarily derived from the EU-SILC survey. Carried out annually, it is the main survey that assesses income and living conditions in Europe, and the main source of information used to link different aspects of quality of life at household and individual level. All the data used in this article (covering both the leisure and social interactions sub-dimensions) come from the EU-SILC 2006 ad-hoc module on social participation, which will be repeated in 2015.

  • Quantity of leisure concerns the availability of time and its use (including personal care), including the satisfaction of people with the amount of time they have to do things they like (a satisfaction with time indicator is being developed in SILC 2013 ad-hoc module).
  • Quality of and access to leisure are measured for the moment with indicators on self-reported attendance at leisure activities that people are interested in, for example cinema, theatre or cultural centres. Other indicators on the topic are to be developed.

The social interactions topic focuses on activities with people, activities for people, supportive relationships and social cohesion.

  • Activities with people (including feeling lonely) are measured in terms of the frequency of contacting, meeting socially/getting together with friends, relatives or colleagues (SILC 2006 Ad Hoc Module) and satisfaction with personal relationships (collected in SILC 2013, will be available in 2015).
  • Activities for people concern involvement in voluntary and charitable activities, excluding paid work (SILC 2006 Ad Hoc Module, which will be repeated in 2015).
  • Assessment of the existence of supportive relationships is based on the proportion of people indicating that they have someone to rely on for help (data available from SILC 2006 Ad Hoc Module, which will be repeated in 2015), the ability to get help and the ability to discuss personal matters (collected in SILC 2013, will be available in 2015).
  • Social cohesion (covering interpersonal trust, perceived tensions and inequalities) will be measured using an indicator for trust in others (collected in SILC 2013, will be available in 2015).

Context

Our subjective perception of well-being, happiness and life satisfaction is fundamentally influenced by our ability to engage in and spend time on the activities we like. The importance attributed by modern societies to work-life balance underlines the role leisure plays in quality of life. It has both a quantitative aspect (i.e. the mere availability of time that we can spend on activities we like) and a qualitative one: access to these activities is as important as the time we have to devote to them. Social interactions, i.e. interpersonal activities and relationships, apart from satisfying a primeval human need for existence in a social milieu (loneliness being a factor that is detrimental to quality of life), also constitute a ‘social capital’ for individuals. However, there is more to quality of life than mere satisfaction derived from social interactions with friends, relatives and colleagues and engaging in activities with people. The quality of social interactions also encompasses our need to engage in activities for people, the existence of supportive relationships, interpersonal trust, the absence of tensions and social cohesion.

Several European Union policies affect the quality of leisure. The EU seeks to preserve Europe’s shared cultural heritage (Article 167 of the Treaty on European Union) — in language, literature, theatre, cinema, dance, broadcasting, art, architecture and handicrafts, and to help make it accessible to others with initiatives such as the Culture Programme. To this end, it has also developed policies on the audiovisual and media market, including the Audiovisual Media Services (AMS) Directive 2010/13, the Creative Europe framework programme on culture and media, as well as provisions for supporting public service broadcasting (Protocol No 29 of the Treaty on European Union). In 2011, the Commission adopted a strategy to develop the European dimension in sport.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Database

Dedicated section

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Notes

  1. Quality of life and leisure activities: How do leisure activities contribute to subjective well-being?, Brajsa-Zganec, A., Merkas, M. and Sverko, I. (2011), Social Indicators Research, 102(1), 81-91
  2. Report of the commission on the measurement of economic performance et social progress, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Jean-Paul Fitoussi (2009)
  3. Abdallah, S. and Stoll, L. (2012), Review of individual-level drivers of subjective well-being, produced as part of the contract ‘Analysis, implementation and dissemination of well-being indicators’, Eurostat
  4. World Happiness Report 2013, Helliwell, J., Layard, R., and Sachs, J. (eds.), Eurofound, Subjective well-being in Europe, 2010