Quality of life in Europe - facts and views - governance

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Data extracted in March 2015. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
Figure 1: Gender pay gap in unadjusted form, EU-27, 2008–13 (%)
Source: Eurostat (earn_gr_gpgr2)
Figure 2: Gender pay gap in unadjusted form, by country, 2008 versus 2013 (%)
Source: Eurostat (earn_gr_gpgr2)
Figure 3: Voter turnout in national and EU parliamentary elections, EU, 1990–2014 (¹) (%)
Source: Eurostat – International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Voter turnout database
Figure 4.a: Voter turnout in national parliamentary elections, by country, 2000 versus 2013 (¹) (%)
Source: Eurostat – International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Voter turnout database
Figure 4.b: Voter turnout in European parliamentary elections, by country, 2004 versus 2014 (%)
Source: Eurostat – International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Voter turnout database
Figure 5: Trust in institutions and in others, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw03)
Figure 6.a: Trust in institutions, by country, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw03)
Figure 6.b: Trust in others, by country, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw03)
Figure 7.a: Trust in institutions, by age group, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw03)
Figure 7.b: Trust in others, by age group, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw03)
Figure 8: Trust in institutions, by sex, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw03)
Figure 9.a: Trust in institutions, by income tercile, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw04)
Figure 9.b: Trust in others, by income tercile, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw04)
Figure 10.a: Trust in institutions, by educational attainment, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw03)
Figure 10.b: Trust in others, by educational attainment, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw03)
Figure 11: Trust in others, by household type, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pw04)
Figure 12.a: Trust in institutions, by economic status, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 12.b: Trust in others, by economic status, EU-28, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Table 1: Subjective well-being and trust items, by country, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 13: Mean trust in institutions versus mean overall life satisfaction, by country, 2013 (¹) (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)
Figure 14: Mean trust in others versus mean overall life satisfaction, by country, 2013 (mean rating)
Source: Eurostat (EU SILC)

This article on governance and basic rights is the seventh in a series of nine articles forming the publication Quality of life in Europe - facts and views. The articles take an innovative approach and use data on subjective evaluations of different domains, collected for the first time in European official statistics . Objective indicators belonging to the same area are used to complement and analyse this type of information.

This article will first examine one aspect of discrimination across genders through measurement of the progress achieved in reducing the Gender pay gap (GPG). Next, the relationship which EU residents have with their political institutions will be studied through the evolution of the voter turnout in national and EU parliamentary elections over the last decades and the trust in institutions. The article will analyse the level of trust of EU residents in three major institutions (the police, the legal system and the political system) and their trust in others, including how it differs amongst various socio-demographic groups (such as age, sex, levels of education, etc.). Lastly, the article will focus on how these various trust items may relate to overall life satisfaction[1].

Main statistical findings

Governance in a quality of life perspective

A lot remains to be done to reduce gender inequalities in Europe. While it has narrowed over the last decade, following a drop during the global financial and economic crisis and stagnation since 2010, the gap between women’s and men’s hourly earnings still stood at 16.4 % in 2013. Participation in civil society measured through the voter turnout in national and European parliamentary elections showed signs of erosion, reflecting a general disinterest towards political life. In 2013, 67.9 % of voters cast their vote in national elections throughout the EU, 10 percentage points less than in 1990, 3.4 percentage points less than in 2000 and 3.6 percentage points less than in 2004. Participation in European Parliament (EP) elections dropped even more sharply, by 14 percentage points since 2004, to less than 50 % of voters in 2014 (42.5 %)[2].

In that context, the average trust of EU residents in three major institutions (the police, legal and political systems) was rated quite differently. On a scale of 0 to 10 (where 0 corresponds to the lowest and 10 to the highest level of trust), residents tended to trust the police more (because of its proximity to them), with a mean at 6.0, than the legal system (4.6 mean) and the political system (3.5 mean). Trust in others, was more positively assessed by residents, with a mean at 5.8.


The age of respondents had a slight influence on trust in the political and legal systems, which was a bit higher at younger and older ages. Trust in the police increased in parallel with age. Men and women trusted institutions in almost the same way, with a mere 0.1 point difference depending on the institution. Trust in the political and legal systems was, by about 0.6 points, higher amongst people belonging to the highest income tercile than amongst those in the lowest. For trust in the police, it was about 0.5 points. The divide between low educated people and tertiary graduates reached a 1.3 points rating (for the legal and political systems). For trust in the police, the gap was more moderate (0.5 points). The unemployed were by far the least trustful people, whatever the institution, with a mean that was as low as 2.4 or 3.6 for trust in the legal and political systems (as opposed to 4.2 and 5.2 for people in education or training). The gap was 1.1 points for trust in the police, the retirees being the most trustful with a mean of 6.2.

Trust in others followed quite similar patterns as trust in institutions. Men and women were equally trustful, at 5.8. People in the highest income tercile had a mean trust in others at 6.1, exceeding that of the least well-off people by 0.6 points. The impact of education was stronger, as the most educated recorded a mean of 6.3, against 5.6 for the group of the least educated. The financial insecurity and probable lack of support experienced by single-person households with dependent children led them to the lowest mean rating for trust in others (5.4), amongst all household types (the most trustful households, consisting of two-adults aged more than 65, without children, having a mean of 6.0). The labour status was the strong influencing factor again, as on average the unemployed were less trustful than people in education or training (5.3 versus 6.3).

Trust in institutions and in others are closely associated with overall life satisfaction, highlighting a divide between northern/western EU Member States (for which both indicators had a relatively high value) and eastern/southern EU Member States (for which both indicators had an average or low value). The relationship was stronger for trust in institutions than for trust in others.

Discrimination and equal opportunities across genders

Equality between women and men is an important aspect of quality of life. It is also one of the EU's founding values, going back to 1957 when the principle of equal pay for equal work became part of the Treaty of Rome[3].

Gender inequalities in pay were shrinking

Enhancing gender equality, including in terms of earnings, is important to protect women against the risk of poverty to which they are more exposed than men[4] and increase their participation in civil society. The GPG is used as a proxy indicator to measure gender equality, but it should be interpreted with caution, as it could be negatively influenced by women’s participation in the labour market [5]. In 2013, the gap between women’s and men’s hourly earnings was 16.4 %, reflecting a 0.9 percentage point drop since 2008, after declining during the global financial and economic crisis and stagnating since 2010 (Figure 1).

While the gap still persists, this encouraging trend may specifically result from a greater participation of women in education. More explicitly, in 2013, the share of women with a tertiary education degree (and participating in lifelong learning) outweighed that of men and lower proportions of them were found amongst early school leavers (See article 5 Education).

A cross-country analysis illustrated in Figure 2 shows that on average, women’s earnings have been catching up with those of men in a majority of EU Member States since 2008. Nonetheless, the gap widened in almost one third of the EU Member States for which data was available, such as Portugal, Spain, Latvia, Italy and Estonia (by between 3.8 and 2.3 points). In 2013, women were still earning 3.2 % less than men in Slovenia and up to 29.9 % less in Estonia. No distinctively clear regional differences can be observed although all southern EU Member States except Spain displayed values below the EU average. One of the main reasons for this paradoxical situation (when compared, for example, with other indicators such as the gender gap in employment rates) is that in these countries women with a low level of qualification were more motivated to stay out of the labour market altogether[6]. Thus, this indicator was influenced by many factors and should not be considered per se as a measure of the degree of (non-)discrimination of women on the labour market.

Gender segregation in occupations is one of the main reasons for the GPG. It affects women far more than men, narrowing their opportunities for career progression. Another reason is that women are more likely than men to trade off time spent on the labour market (paid) to focus on care-giving activities (unpaid). Hence, women tended to be employed in low-paid sectors[7] and to be less represented in management positions. As a result, they earned less than men over their lifetime and were entitled to lower pensions[8].

Gender stereotypes, which may be affected by traditions and societal norms, but also personality differences, were amongst the determining factors affecting women’s educational and professional choices, and the derived opportunities for career development. Family caring responsibilities were also pushing them, voluntarily or not, towards more temporary and part-time positions[9] (and more interrupted careers), hence narrower chances for progression[10]

EU residents and their institutions

Public participation is one of the policy-guiding principles highlighted in the EU Sustainable Development Strategy. It contributes to a more democratic society through the involvement of residents in civic life and to improving the effectiveness of EU policies[11].

Erosion of voter turnout in national and EU parliamentary elections

As Figure 3 shows, voter turnout in national elections was about 10 percentage points lower in 2013 (67.9 %) than in 1990 (77.4 %). The decline was sharper still for European Parliament elections, in which participation dropped by 14 percentage points, to less than 50 % of voters (42.5 %) over the last twenty years. It is however particularly the period until 2000 in which the sharpest drop was registered. This was also partially related to changing the composition of the EU by the two successive enlargements that took place in 2004 and 2007. In particular, in some of the new EU Member States, voter turnout has been extremely low (reaching 13 % in Slovakia for the EP elections of 2014).

Figures 4.a and 4.b confirm a declining voter turnout in almost all EU Member States since the late 1990s and early 2000s. Less than half of voters registered in Romania (41.8 %) cast a vote in the last (2010 election round) national parliamentary elections, a 23.5 percentage point drop compared with 2000 (65.3 %). In Poland, the last election attracted about half of the voters (48.9 %), however in Romania and most countries, this was 2.7 percentage points more than in 2001 (46.2 %).

At the other end of the scale, more than nine in ten voters participated in the last elections in Malta, a figure which seems to be rather constant over time (slightly decreasing from 95.4 % in 1998 to 93.0 % in 2013). Luxembourg and Belgium (and at a distance, Cyprus), where voting is compulsory, followed Malta. In Greece, where this legal obligation also exists, the last turnout was relatively low (at 62.5 %), highlighting a 12.5 percentage point decline since 2000.

The erosion of voter turnout affecting elections in Europe in recent decades may be a sign of indifference towards and even distrust of the political system and political parties. This translates into a confidence drop in the political system (3.5 on the scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is the lowest trust level and 10 the highest), as illustrated in Figures 5 and 6. Nonetheless, many variables, whether socio-economic, political or institutional, may also influence voter turnout. Among the socio-economic ones, the population structure stands out with its size, concentration, stability and homogeneity. Political variables include the expected outcome of the election[12] (and the previous elections’ outcomes) which is also linked to the political fragmentation of the EU Member States (i.e. the number of political parties that participate in the election), and the quality of the electoral campaigns and their cost. Some institutional procedures governing the electoral system in some EU Member States, such as the way in which votes are translated into seats or compulsory voting, would also affect voter turnout to a greater or lesser extent [13] [14](although the figures for Greece and, to a lesser extent, Cyprus have shown the limits of compulsory voting).

Figure 4.b signals a slightly less dramatic drop in voter turnout for the European Parliament elections since 2004 and also a much more limited voter turnout in general, compared with national elections. The differential between the two types of elections can exceed 40 percentage points in Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

The participation in European Parliament elections dropped in 20 out of 28 EU Member States including those four where voting is compulsory. The highest decrease in participation rate in European Parliament elections was recorded in Cyprus where a loss of 28.5 percentage points of registered voters occurred since the country first participated in such elections following its accession to the EU. All Member States which joined the EU in recent years (except Malta and Cyprus) displayed values below the EU average. Sweden was amongst the EU Member States which did not follow a downward trend, since participation increased by 13.2 percentage points, but the rate remains relatively modest at 51.1 % in 2014.

In most EU Member States, citizens may see these organisations as distant bodies and may not perceive their impact on their national policies and daily lives. This is also reflected in the low (and declining) confidence in these institutions observed in the last decades in most EU Member States[15].

Trust in institutions and trust in others

Trust is a core element of an individual’s relationships and of their social interactions. It translates an expectation placed on ‘others’ which is a function of the degree to which trust has been honoured in an individual’s history of prior social interactions, and can have strong implications in many aspects of their life[16] [17].

In the current context of disinterest towards political life, Figure 5 compares the mean level of trust with three major institutions represented by the police, the legal and the political systems, and mean trust in others, reported by EU residents. Residents tended to trust the police (6.0 mean) more than their legal (4.6 mean) and political system (3.5 mean, on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 corresponds to the lowest and 10 to the highest level of trust). This rather negative assessment, in particular as regards trust in the political system, may to some extent explain the declining voter turnout observed above. The differences across institutions may reflect diverging levels of understanding of these institutions, their perceived impact on daily life and proximity, which is probably higher for the police due to their stronger local presence across national territories[18] [19].

Trust in others, which may reveal the level of social cohesion of all people living in society, was more positively assessed by the EU residents compared with the trust in the legal and political system, with a mean at 5.8. This figure was nonetheless much lower than the mean satisfaction of individuals with their personal relationships which was valued at 7.8, the highest rating registered across all types of domain satisfaction included in the EU-SILC 2013 ad-hoc module (See article 5 Leisure and social interactions). However, ‘others’ does not refer to a specific group of people and may hence encompass personal relationships but also any other people, whether known or unknown. This may explain to some extent the gap between the two ratings.

In 2013, EU residents rated on average their trust in others at 5.8 on a scale from 0 to 10.

In general, trust items were rated lower than satisfaction items, which may be linked to the fact that they referred to something external[20]. Their link to self-esteem was different for the two types of indicators: satisfaction is something the respondent may feel responsible for, and therefore may tend to overrate, while others or institutions can be to a certain extent held responsible for the success or failure of the individual, and therefore trusting others or institutions could be easily underrated.

A cross-country analysis (Figure 6.a) shows that the residents of Bulgaria recorded the lowest level of trust in their police (3.6), followed by most other eastern but also southern EU Member States, all of which were below the EU average except Estonia (6.0), Malta (6.3) and Romania (6.4). France also belonged in this group of countries (5.7). At the other end of the scale, Finland displayed the highest mean, at 8.2, with Denmark a close second (7.9).

Trust in the legal system followed quite a similar pattern. Most EU Member States with a low trust rate were found in the central and eastern parts of the EU while most countries with high trust rates were northern EU Member States. Lower levels of trust ranged from a minimum of 2.7 in Slovenia (followed by Portugal and Bulgaria at 2.9 and 3.0) to 7.2 and 7.5 in Finland and Denmark.

Trust in the political system was even lower — the mean did not exceed 6.0 (in Finland, followed by Denmark at 5.9). The lowest means were found in Portugal (1.7), followed by Slovenia, Spain and Greece (where 2.0 was not exceeded). The low means in these last four EU Member States can be seen as the result of the high shares of people who reported having no trust at all (a ‘0’ rating) in the political system of their country. These are principally EU Member States severely hit by the global financial and economic crisis.

The analysis of trust in others illustrated in Figure 6.b shows similar groups of countries displayed at each end of the scale. People in Bulgaria again had the lowest average level of trust, at 4.2, followed by residents from Cyprus at 4.5. At the other end of the spectrum, people in Denmark and Finland tended to be much more likely to trust others, with a mean of 8.3 and 7.4 respectively. With an equal number of EU Member States distributed below and above the EU average, trust in others appeared to be highest in the northern EU Member States — most of which are displayed in the right-hand side of the scale — while trust in the southern EU Member States was mostly low.

While economic, constitutional, cultural and other factors are probably some of the explanation for an EU Member State’s trust rating of its institutions, the composition of its population (specifically its age, level of education, composition of its households and working force) is expected to play a role as well, in particular for trust in others.

Trust in institutions and trust in others by socio-demographic characteristics

How is the socio-demographic background associated to trust of EU citizens in their institutions and in others?

The next section analyses how the trust which EU residents have in their institutions (the police, the legal and political system), may vary depending on socio-demographic characteristics such as their age, gender, income, composition of their household, labour status and level of educational attainment. A similar analysis is done for the variable ‘trust in others’. As a general finding, it appears that trust varied less than satisfaction across groups.

Trust varied only slightly across age groups

As Figure 7 shows, trust in the political system was only slightly linked to age, varying by a mere 0.6 point rating across age groups. The highest mean was recorded amongst those aged 16–24 and 65+ (4.0 and 3.6 respectively). The intermediate age groups registered means between 3.4 and 3.5.

Trust in the legal system was even less connected to age, with only a 0.4 point gap across age groups. The younger (16–24) age group registered the highest mean at 4.9, followed by the 25–34 and 75+ age groups at 4.7 each. In between, the other age groups had means varying by 0.1 point only, at 4.5 to 4.6.

Trust in the police differed in wider proportions, and increased in parallel with the age of respondents. The two younger age groups had an almost identical mean at around 5.7 to 5.8[21]. The next two age groups (35–49 and 50–64) had the same mean at 5.9, while it was between 6.2 and 6.4 in the two older groups.

These differences may have quite different origins but, generally, younger people probably tended to have a higher faith in the future due to their high expectations at this early stage of their lives, while older people likely had fewer expectations and the feeling of having met (at least some of) their expectations from society. They also presumably has a better understanding of the workings of the institutions.

Trust in others (Figure 7.b) reiterates a weak association with age. The mean trust reached its maximum value of 6.0 with the younger age group (16–24) and a bit less (5.9) with those aged 65–74, and 75+. The intermediate age groups had an identical mean of 5.8.

The younger and older age groups also had the highest mean satisfaction with their personal relationships. This was in part due to their greater opportunities to develop personal relationships for reasons of time availability, having less family or professional responsibilities.

Men and women reported almost identical levels of trust

Figure 8 shows that the mean levels of trust recorded by male residents within the EU were almost exactly the same as those of female residents, at respectively 3.6 versus 3.5 for the political system, 4.7 versus 4.6 for the legal system, and 5.9 versus 6.0 for the police. Women trusted the police slightly more than men and the other institutions slightly less than them. Trust is linked to expectations which may vary from one individual to another, irrespective of their sex. It is also a question of individual propensity to it, namely as a result of one’s personal history and personality characteristics[22].

The mean levels of trust in others recorded by male EU residents were exactly the same as those recorded by women: 5.8. Trust in others is expected to be explained by the same underlying reasons as trust in institutions.

Trust increased with income

As illustrated in Figures 9.a and 9.b, the average trust grew gradually, in parallel with income levels. Across the three institutions, the gap between low-income and high-income earners reached between 0.5 and 0.6 points.

Hence, the level of trust in the political system by people in the lowest income tercile was 3.3, while it was 3.5 and 3.9 respectively by people in the second and the highest income terciles. For trust in the legal system, this was 4.4, 4.6 and 5.0. As usual, trust in the police was recorded higher levels, at 5.7 in the lowest, 6.0 in the second and 6.2 in the highest tercile.

Higher trust in institutions may be linked to a greater knowledge and understanding of how they function by the most financially-advantaged people (who are often also the most educated ones).

As illustrated in Figure 9.b, the average trust in others, which was higher than trust in institutions, also grew in parallel with income levels. People in the lowest income tercile expressed a lower level of trust in others (5.5), than people in the second (5.9) and highest (6.1) income terciles. This might be due to a greater capacity amongst people who were better-off to be socially-inclusive and take part in society through more numerous channels that help them developing and maintaining larger and more diverse social networks. As a result, they probably had a higher sense of fulfilled expectations. This was reflected in that the members of the top tercile were also more satisfied with their relationships than those of the lowest and second income terciles.

Education had a stronger effect on trust

There is a clear relationship between educational attainment and trust in institutions (Figure 10.a). The effect of education is stronger than that of income, in particular for trust in the political and legal systems as indicated by the 1.3 point gap between the means reported by the least and most educated people. Hence, the population with utmost lower secondary education had a mean trust in the political system of 2.9, against 3.7 amongst those who completed secondary education and 4.2 amongst those who completed tertiary education. For the legal, systems, the ratings were 4.0, 4.7 and 5.3 respectively. The mean reported by the least educated was 5.8 whereas it was 6.3 for the most educated (quite close to the means registered in the corresponding analysis by income tercile). It is probably on the same grounds as for income that the explanation behind these patterns is to be sought, education being linked to income levels. Moreover, education is also seen as means of empowering, in that it enables people to make their own choices and accomplish their expectations, which may engender higher levels of trust.

Among the EU population with tertiary education, the level of trust in the police reached 6.3 on a scale from 0 to 10 in 2013.

The analysis of trust in others puts again into light a clear relation between educational attainment and trust in others (Figure 10.b). The least educated had a mean trust in others of 5.6. The rating was just slightly higher amongst people having completed upper secondary education (5.7). Those who completed tertiary education reported an average mean of 6.3 in terms of trust in others. The order of these means was identical to the ones reported by income tercile, education and income.

Trust in others tended to be lowest amongst the younger single-person households

Figure 11 reveals that the lowest levels of trust were recorded amongst the younger single-person households, with or without children. Their means varied between 5.4 (single persons with at least one dependent child), 5.5 and 5.6 amongst young males (5.5) and young females who live alone.

People living in other household types reported quite homogeneous means ranging from 5.8 to 6.0.

Amongst the household types presented, single persons with dependent children were the most at risk of poverty (31.8 %), just ahead of one-adult households aged less than 65 years (27.5 %) in 2013 (See article 1 Material living conditions). This financial insecurity may have led to difficult personal situations in which these households did not receive the expected support from others hence reducing their level of trust.

Labour status had a strong effect on trust

Figure 12.a reveals a certain connection between labour status and trust. The unemployed reported the lowest level of trust, with a mean that was more than 1 point lower than that of the most trustful people.

This was particularly true for trust in the political system: here, the average trust score of the unemployed was 2.4 points, while the corresponding average rate amongst people in education or training was almost twice as high (4.2). The self-employed followed with a slightly higher average trust score (equal to 3.3), when compared with that reported by unemployed people. Retirees and employees had a rather homogeneous average trust rate: 3.7 and 4.0 respectively.

Trust in the legal system followed a very similar pattern, although the means were higher. The unemployed again recorded the lowest degree of trust. The gap here was 1.5 points, with a mean of 3.6 versus 5.2 for the most trustful group (again, composed of people in education or training). The level of trust in the legal system reported by the group of self-employed was on average 4.5. The average trust reported by other groups of people clustered by labour status varied from 4.7 to 5.0.

For trust in the police, the difference between the least trustful (again, the unemployed with a mean of 5.1) and the most trustful (the retirees at 6.2) was more limited, although reaching 1.1 points. The self-employed were the second least trustful group of people with a mean at 5.8, quite close to the means registered in the other categories (the employees and people in education or training), at 6.0 to 6.1.

High trust was hence found mostly amongst categories of people who probably feel they have safer financial and job security (or who are not concerned by job issues yet or anymore) which is also perceived in their tendency to be more satisfied with their financial situation.

Conversely, those who are jobless probably tend to have little faith in the future and feel that one of their main expectations to society (finding a job) goes unmet. The self-employed may often be facing high professional risk, which might generate feelings of insecurity, as compared with being an employee. This could be the main explanation for their low level of trust. The self-employed are also inclined to interact more directly with institutions than employees and people in the other groups, which might also have an impact on trust.

People in education or training had on average the highest level of trust in the political and legal systems in the EU-28, namely 5.2 and 4.2 on a scale from 0 to 10 in 2013.

Trust in others (Figure 12.b) shows a similar pattern to trust in institutions, although, the means are more homogeneous (varying by 1 point rating only) and generally higher. With a mean at 6.3, people in education or training recorded the highest levels of trust while people in employment — whatever their specific status — and retired people, recorded a similar mean at 5.9. The unemployed were the least trustful (5.3).

Trust in institutions and trust in others versus overall life satisfaction

How were the levels of trust in institutions and in others reported by European citizens connected with their overall life satisfaction?

This section will examine the relation between the subjective indicators on overall life satisfaction, on trust in institutions and on others. Life satisfaction is intended to cover a broad, reflective appraisal of all areas relating of a person’s existence. It is regarded as a key indicator and reliable measure of subjective well-being backed by international studies and guidelines[23].

Table 1 compares the mean overall life satisfaction reported by EU residents (7.1, same as job satisfaction and satisfaction with recreational or green areas)[24] with their levels of trust in three institutions — the political system (3.5), the legal system (4.6) and the police (6.0) — and in others (5.8) in 2013.

As expected, the EU Member States with a high rate of life satisfaction were also those with the highest trust levels. The reverse was also true but less distinctively. The patterns recorded by individual EU Member States, including those who make up special cases, will be analysed below.

Life satisfaction and trust in institutions were strongly associated

As can be seen in Figure 13, the lower the overall life satisfaction was, the lower the average level of trust in institutions appeared to be. This was true in all EU Member States, with no real exception. A divide between northern/western and eastern/southern EU Member States prevailed however, the most striking examples being Bulgaria as opposed to Finland and Denmark. At the lower left-hand end of the spectrum, Bulgaria recorded the lowest means for life satisfaction (4.8) and of trust in institutions (3.1). Conversely, at the top right-end of the spectrum, Finland and Denmark were recorded the highest means of life satisfaction (8.0) and trust in institution (7.1). These two EU Member States also had very similar ratings of each individual institution (the police being the most trusted one[25]). Residents of the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) and Hungary were exceptions: their relatively high degrees of overall trust in institutions, comprised between 4.5 in Latvia and 5.3 in Estonia, had a limited impact on their assessments of life satisfaction which were comparatively low (ranging from 6.2 in Hungary to 6.7 in Latvia). With a much lower trust level (3.3 and 3.8), Slovenian and Slovak residents reported more positively on life satisfaction (7.0) (the same applied to Spain with a mean trust of 3.5 and a mean overall life satisfaction of 6.9).

Life satisfaction and trust in others followed the same pattern

Similarly to trust in institutions, trust in others tended to be lower in EU Member States that also reported a low average level of overall life satisfaction. This was again true for almost all EU Member States, as seen in Figure 14. The divide this time however shows northern EU Member States contrasting with most other EU Member States, although eastern and southern EU Member States still tended to display the lowest means. Hence, Bulgaria registered the lowest mean trust in others, at 4.2, which was quite close to its mean life satisfaction (4.8, the lowest too). On the contrary, Denmark was the EU Member State with the highest mean trust in others (8.3, the next country, Finland, being at 7.4), mean life satisfaction being rated at 8.0 (the same score as in Sweden and Finland). However, EU Member States with the same average trust in others (for example at around 6.5) could have very different average life satisfactions, ranging from 6.5 in Latvia to 8.0 in Switzerland.

Data sources and availability

An ad-hoc module on subjective well-being was implemented in the EU-SILC 2013. This module contains subjective questions (e.g. How satisfied are you with your life these days?) which complement the mostly objective indicators from existing data collections and social surveys.

The "GDP and beyond" communication, the SSF Commission recommendations, the Sponsorship on measuring progress, and the Sofia memorandum all underlined the importance of collecting high quality data about people's quality of life and well-being and the central role that statistics on income and living conditions (SILC) have to play in this improved measurement. The collection of micro data related to well-being therefore is a key objective. In May 2010 both the Living Conditions Working Group and the Indicators Sub-Group of the Social Protection Committee supported Eurostat's proposal to collect micro data related to well-being within the 2013 module of SILC in order to better respond to this request.

For more information please visit: Eurostat - GDP and beyond - Quality of life

Indicators on governance and basic rights

The dimension ‘governance and basic rights’ refers to:

  • trust in institutions and satisfaction with public services;
  • aspects related to discrimination and equal opportunities (experienced discrimination and gender pay gap (GPG)); and
  • active citizenship (‘voice and accountability’).

The calculations are mainly based on the 2013 ad-hoc module on subjective well-being of EU-SILC. However, some indicators still need to be developed.

Trust in others and trust in institutions

The variables on trust are of general nature and refer to the respondent’s opinion/feeling.

The trust in others does not refer to a specific group of people. On the scale of 0 to 10, 0 means ‘You do not trust any other person’ and 10 represents the respondent's feeling that ‘Most people can be trusted’.

For trust in institutions (the police, the legal system, the political system), 0 means ‘No trust at all’ and 10 ‘Complete trust’ in the concerned institution. The term political system refers to a complete set of institutions, interest groups (such as political parties, trade unions), the relationships between those institutions and the political norms and rules that govern their functions. The term legal system refers to the entire system for interpreting and enforcing the laws and not to a specific legal entity within the country. Trust in the legal system is supposed to measure, for example, opinions and attitudes towards the effectiveness and efficiency of the institutions such as the courts, the fairness of its procedures and decisions, and the extent to which the sentences given out reflect the values and desires of citizens. The term police refers to the police as an institution.

Gender pay gap

The unadjusted Gender Pay Gap (GPG) represents the difference between average gross hourly earnings of male paid employees and female paid employees as a percentage of average gross hourly earnings of male paid employees. The population consists of all paid employees in enterprises with 10 employees or more in NACE Rev. 2 aggregate B to S (excluding O) — before reference year 2008: NACE Rev. 1.1 aggregate C to O (excluding L). The GPG calculated by Eurostat is unadjusted, i.e. not adjusted for individual characteristics that may explain part of the earnings difference, because it aims to give a general picture of gender inequalities in terms of pay. The GPG indicator is calculated within the framework of the data collected according to the methodology of the Structure of Earnings Survey (EC Regulation: 530/1999). It replaces data which was based on non-harmonised sources.

What is the voter turnout?

Voter turnout is an indicator of citizens’ participation in public affairs both at EU and national levels. The number of those who cast a vote or ‘turn out’ at an election includes those who cast blank or invalid votes. Turnout is calculated by dividing the number of votes cast by the number of registered voters. In Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece, and Cyprus, voting is compulsory. The indicator presents voter turnout for European Parliament elections and national elections.

For national elections, the indicator refers to parliamentary elections except for Cyprus (presidential elections), France, Portugal and Romania (both parliamentary and presidential elections). The indicator includes an EU average ‘turnout’. This was estimated by Eurostat on the basis of the trends observed in each of the EU Member States’ national elections.

The calculation of the EU average is based on parliamentary elections for all countries, except for Cyprus (only presidential elections), France, Portugal and Romania (both parliamentary and presidential elections). The indicator is compiled with data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Voter Turnout Database.

Context

The quality of democratic institutions and the elimination of discrimination constitute important aspects of the quality of life of European Union (EU) residents in the public or civic sphere. The distance between the EU residents from political life and the empowerment of women in society still remains a challenge. In that context, an analysis of how institutions are perceived and the evolution of the gender pay gap (GPG) appear to be very relevant to assess EU ‘governance’ within a quality of life perspective.

EU policies related to governance and basic rights

Respect for human rights for every individual everywhere has been of particular importance for numerous governments since the second half of the 20th century. The experience of World War II has led to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[26] in 1948.

The importance of human rights is highlighted in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, which states that ‘The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail’.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU brings together in a single document the fundamental rights protected in the EU across six areas: dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens’ rights, and justice. After its solemn proclamation in 2000, the Charter became legally binding with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon in December 2009. In the area of discrimination, there are two long-standing directives (Racial Equality Directive and Employment Framework Directive), and in July 2008 the European Commission adopted a Communication that presents a comprehensive approach to stepping up action against discrimination and for promoting equal opportunities.

Gender equality and democratic institutions are some of the challenges of sustainable development too. In 2012, in its outcome document to the Rio+20 conference[27], the United Nations (UN) acknowledged their importance. The EU Sustainable Development agenda[28] itself aims to develop a socially-inclusive society, actively including the most disadvantaged, namely through fight against gender inequalities[29]. It also makes provisions for good governance, on the basis of principles such as policy coherence and effectiveness, openness and public participation[30].

See also

Further Eurostat information

Main tables

Income distribution and monetary poverty (t_ilc_ip)
Monetary poverty (t_ilc_li)
Monetary poverty for elderly people (t_ilc_pn)
In-work poverty (t_ilc_iw)
Distribution of income (t_ilc_di)
Material deprivation (ilc_md)
Material deprivation by dimension (t_ilc_mddd)
Housing deprivation (t_ilc_mdho)
Environment of the dwelling (t_ilc_mddw)
Gender pay gap in unadjusted form (tsdsc340)

Database

Income distribution and monetary poverty (ilc_ip)
Monetary poverty (ilc_li)
Monetary poverty for elderly people (ilc_pn)
In-work poverty (ilc_iw)
Distribution of income (ilc_di)
EU-SILC ad hoc module (ilc_ahm)
Gender pay gap in unadjusted form (earn_grgpg)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

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

Notes

  1. Source data in aggregated format and graphs are available in Excel format through the online publication Quality of life: facts and views in Statistics Explained (Excel file clickable at the bottom of each article).
  2. The data analysed for European Parliamentary elections starts in 2004, when the 10 Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia), first participated in such elections.
  3. European Commission, Directory General for Justice: Gender equality.
  4. Women face a higher poverty risk, particularly lone parents and the elderly, when the pay gap becomes a ‘pension gap’. Source: Strategy for equality between women and men 2010–2015, COM(2010) 491 final, p.5. (Hence, the risk of poverty of the total female population is 25.4 % against 23.6 % for men and 12 million more women than men are living in poverty in the EU. Source: Eurostat, EU-LFS (lfsa_eppga) and EU-SILC (ilc_peps01).
  5. There are various reasons for the existence and size of a GPG and they may differ strongly between EU Member States, e.g. kind of jobs held by women, consequences of breaks in career or part-time work due to childbearing, decisions in favour of family life, etc. Moreover, the proportion of women working and their characteristics differ significantly between countries, particularly because of institutions and attitudes governing the balance between private and work life which impact on the careers and thus the pay of women. Source: Eurostat, Gender pay gap statistics.
  6. http://people.bu.edu/olivetti/papers/olivettipetrongolo_apr2008.pdf
  7. New JNCHES Equality Working Group, The Gender Pay Gap — A Literature Review (2011), p. 19.
  8. In October 2014, the proportion of women on the boards of the largest publicly listed companies in the EU Member States reached 20.2 %. Source: European Commission, Justice and consumers, Report on equality between women and men 2014 (2014) pp. 13–17 and p.21. See also: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.
  9. Hence, in 2013, 14.2 % of women experienced a temporary contract versus 13.2 % of men. Source: Eurostat, EU-LFS (lfsa_etpga).
  10. European Commission, Sustainable development in the European Union. 2013 monitoring report of the EU sustainable development strategy (2013), p.122.
  11. Id. Ibid., p.260.
  12. The idea here is that voters in more local elections tend to believe that their chances of affecting the outcome are greater, and hence are more likely to vote. Source: Gary W. Cox, Closeness and turnout: a methodological note, in ‘The Journal of Politics’, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Aug. 1988), pp. 768–775.
  13. Delwit, P.. The End of Voters in Europe? Electoral Turnout in Europe since WWII, in ‘Open Journal of Political Science’, vol.3 (1), (2013), pp.44–52.
  14. Geys, B.. Explaining voter turnout: A review of aggregate-level research, in ‘Electoral Studies’, vol. 25 (4), (2006), pp.637–663.
  15. The level of citizens’ confidence in the European Parliament was 57.0 % in 2004 versus 39.0 % in 2013. For the European Commission, this was 52.0 % (2004) versus 35.0 % (2013); for the European Council, 45.0 % (2004) versus 36.0 % (2012). Source: European Commission, Eurobarometer, Level of citizens’ confidence in EU institutions (tsdgo510).
  16. Rempel, J. K., Trust — The Impact Of Trust In Established Relationships and Rotter, J. B. A New Scale for the Measurement of Interpersonal Trust in ‘Journal of Personality’ 35 (1967), pp. 651–665.
  17. Roy J. Lewicki and Edward C. Tomlinson, Trust and trust building (2003).
  18. European Commission, Eurofound, Quality of life in Europe, Subjective well-being, 3rd European quality of life survey (2013), p.68.
  19. Although one of the goals of the EU regional policy is to increase people’s quality of life by investing in the efficiency of public administrations and services (including their online availability), hence enhancing proximity of public authorities with citizens. Source: The European Union explained — Regional policy — Making Europe’s regions and cities more competitive, fostering growth and creating jobs (2014) p. 13.
  20. Idem.
  21. The ratings are actually only varying by 0.02 point, at 5.75 in the former and 5.73 in the latter.
  22. Roy J. Lewicki and Edward C. Tomlinson, Trust and trust building (2003).
  23. Life satisfaction (variable PW010) represents a report of how a respondent evaluates or appraises his or her life taken as a whole. It is intended to represent a broad, reflective appraisal the person makes of his or her life. The term life is intended here as all areas of a person’s life at a particular point in time (these days). The variable therefore refers to the respondent’s opinion/feeling about the degree of satisfaction with his/her life. It focuses on how people are feeling ‘these days’ rather than specifying a longer or shorter time period. The intent is not to obtain the current emotional state of the respondent but for them to make a reflective judgement on their level of satisfaction. See E. Diener, Guidelines for National Indicators of Subjective Well-Being and Ill-Being.
  24. Overall life satisfaction scored lower than ‘satisfaction with personal relationships’ (7.8), ‘satisfaction with with accommodation’ (7.5), ‘meaning of life’ (7.4), ‘satisfaction with commuting time’ (7.4), ‘satisfaction with living environment’ (7.3) and before ‘satisfaction with time use’ (6.7) and ‘satisfaction with financial situation’ (6.0).
  25. Hence in Denmark, trust in the political system was rated 5.9, trust in the legal system 7.5, trust in the police 7.9. The figures were similar in Finland (6.0, 7.2 and 8.2 respectively).
  26. http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html
  27. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, on 27 July 2012 — The future we want — A/RES/66/28.
  28. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/. See also European platform against poverty and social exclusion.
  29. 12 million more women than men are living in poverty in the EU. Source: Eurostat, EU-SILC.
  30. These principles are derived from the 2001 White Paper on European Governance.