Living conditions in Europe - material deprivation and economic strain


Data extracted in January 2019

Planned article update: March 2021.

Highlights


In 2017, 60.8 % of people living in single-person households with dependent children in the EU were unable to face unexpected financial expenses.

In 2017, 20.4 % of people at risk of poverty in the EU were unable to afford a meal with meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent every second day.

Inability to afford a meal with meat, fish or vegetarian equivalent every second day, 2017, persons at risk of poverty

The original version of this article is part of a set of statistical articles that formed Eurostat’s flagship publication, Living conditions in Europe - 2018 edition. Each article helps provide a comprehensive and up-to-date summary of living conditions in Europe, presenting some key results from the European Union’s (EU’s) statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC), which is conducted across EU Member States, EFTA and candidate countries.

Full article


Policy context

The EU promotes smart, sustainable and inclusive growth to improve its competitiveness and productivity, underpinning its social market economy. However, the Europe 2020 strategy cannot be monitored solely through traditional macroeconomic measures: rather, a range of socio-economic aspects are also taken into account.

In recent years, Eurostat has invested considerable resources in developing a set of indicators that are designed to reach Beyond GDP, thereby providing a more inclusive analysis of economic, social and environmental aspects of progress. Indeed, economic indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) were not designed to be comprehensive measures of prosperity and well-being. With this in mind, a range of indicators have been developed which help to provide information to address global challenges for the 21st century — poverty, the quality of life, health, climate change and resource depletion.

Key findings

Material deprivation, defined as the inability to afford a set of predefined material items that are considered by most people to be desirable or even necessary to experience an adequate quality of life, is a concept that may be used to complement a relative analysis of monetary poverty by providing information on absolute poverty.

In 2017, more than one sixth (16.9 %) of the EU-28 population could not afford three or more out of nine standard deprivation items — 7.9 % of the population could not afford three items, while 6.6 % could not afford four or more items (severe material deprivation).

A more detailed analysis for the individual items that are used to determine material deprivation reveals, for instance, that among those at risk of poverty in the EU-28 in 2017, 20.4 % were unable to afford a decent meal with meat, fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day. Meanwhile, 60.8 % of those living in single-person households with dependent children were unable to face unexpected financial expenses.

Material deprivation

Material deprivation indicators provide a measure related to the (in)ability of individuals to be able to afford a set of nine predefined material items that are considered by most people to be desirable or even necessary to experience an adequate quality of life. These include the ability to:

  • meet unexpected expenses,
  • afford a one-week annual holiday away from home,
  • afford a meal with meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent every second day,
  • adequately heat their dwelling,
  • purchase a range of durable goods such as a washing machine, colour television, a telephone, or a car,
  • pay a mortgage, rent, utility bills or other loan payments on time.


The material deprivation rate is defined as the proportion of the population that is unable to afford three or more out of this list of nine items. The severe material deprivation rate is defined as the proportion of the population that is unable to afford four or more of the above-mentioned items.

Figure 1: Severe material deprivation rate and at-risk-of poverty rate, 2017
(Share of total population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li02) and (ilc_sip8)

As shown in Figure 1, severe material deprivation rates for the EU Member States were generally significantly lower than at-risk-of-poverty rates in 2017.

Across the whole of the EU-28, the severe material deprivation rate was 6.6 % in 2017 (compared with an at-risk-of-poverty rate of 16.9 %). Severe material deprivation rates ranged from 1.1 % in Sweden and 1.2 % in Luxembourg to 21.1 % in Greece and 30.0 % in Bulgaria.

The only EU Member States to record higher levels of absolute poverty (as measured by the severe material deprivation rate) compared with relative poverty (as measured by the at-risk-of-poverty rate) were Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary; a similar pattern was repeated in Turkey and in North Macedonia (both 2016 data).

Figure 2: Material deprivation rates, 2017
(Share of total population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_sip8)

As far as material deprivation is concerned, 7.9 % of the EU-28 population was in a position whereby they could not afford three or more out of this list of nine items in 2017 (see Figure 2); while a further 6.6 % of the population could not afford four or more items. As such, 14.5% of the EU-28 population experienced material deprivation, while the severe material deprivation rate was 6.6 %.

Among the EU Member States, less than 5.0 % of the total population in Malta, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden were categorised as being materially deprived in 2017; this was also the case in Norway, Iceland and Switzerland (the latter two based on 2016 data).

On the other hand, upwards of one tenth or more of the population in 11 of the EU Member States was unable to afford three or more in 2017; the highest shares were recorded in Croatia, Cyprus and Romania (where a peak of 17.6 % was registered). When combined with those persons unable to afford four or more items, the highest material deprivation rates were recorded in Romania, Greece and Bulgaria (where a peak of 43.8 % was registered, about 3 pp less than in 2016).

Table 1: Severe material deprivation rate by household type, 2017
(Share of total population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_mddd13)

Single-parent households are most often affected by severe material deprivation

In 2017, 13.3 % of the EU-28 population living in single-parent households was considered to be severely materially deprived (see Table 1); this was by far the highest share among any of the different household types. The severe material deprivation rate was also significantly higher than the EU-28 average (6.6 %) for households composed of one adult younger than 65 years (11.2 %).

Across the individual EU Member States in 2017:

  • Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, Poland and Slovenia recorded significantly higher (2 pp or more) severe material deprivation rates for their populations living in households without children (when compared to the population living in households with children);
  • in Bulgaria and Romania, persons living in households with two adults with three or more dependent children were most affected by severe material deprivation (when compared with the other household types);
  • severe material deprivation rates for people living in households composed of two or more adults with dependent children were:
  • at least twice as high as the EU-28 average of 6.0 % in Cyprus and Hungary (12.2 % and 15.0%),
  • more than three times as high as the EU-28 average in Romania and Greece (19.1 % and 22.6 %),
  • over four times as high as the EU-28 average in Bulgaria (28.2 %). Higher rates were recorded outside EU-28, namely in North Macedonia and Turkey (29.2 % and 35.2%).


Table 2: Severe material deprivation rate for the adult population by broad group of citizenship and sex, 2017
(Share of population aged 18 and over)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_mddd16)

Foreign citizens affected more by severe material deprivation

Across the whole of the EU-28, with some 9.2 % foreign citizens were more affected by severe material deprivation in 2017 as national citizens (6.2 %) (see Table 2). This pattern held across the majority of the EU Member States, although Bulgaria was an exception as it reported fewer foreign citizens facing severe material deprivation (21.3 % vs 30.6 %). Severe material deprivation touched more than one fifth of all foreign citizens living in Lithuania (20.3 %), Italy (20.7 %) and Bulgaria (21.3 %), with this share rising to a peak of 48.1 % for those foreign citizens who were living in Greece.


Economic strain

Figure 3: Inability to afford a meal with meat, fish or vegetarian equivalent every second day, 2017
(Share of total population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_mdes03)

More than one in five people in the EU-28 at risk of poverty were unable to afford a meal with meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent every second day

In 2017, more than one fifth (20.4 %) of people across the EU-28 who were at risk of poverty reported being unable to afford a meal with meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent every second day (see Figure 3). This share among the EU Member States ranged from 4.5 % in Ireland up to 45.8 % in Greece and 61.9 % in Bulgaria.

Some 7.9 % of the total EU-28 population was unable to afford a meal with meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent every second day. The share of the total population facing difficulties with respect to this economic strain was highest in Bulgaria, where more than one third (31.7 %) of the population was unable to afford such a meal every second day. By contrast, in Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands, less than 2.0 % of the population faced such difficulties.

Table 3: Inability to face unexpected financial expenses by household type, 2017
(Share of total population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_mdes04)

Households with children are less able to cope with unexpected financial expenses

The ability to cope with unexpected financial expenses is a measure of financial security, and may be used to identify risks and vulnerabilities that are not necessarily revealed through an analysis of income-based indicators. Note that this indicator provides wealth-based information rather than information pertaining to income or expenditure; as such, it presents complementary information that may be used to analyse the financial situation of households.

Overall, 36.3 % of the EU-28 population living in households with dependent children was unable to face unexpected financial expenses in 2017, compared with just below one third (31.4 %) of the population who were living in households without children (see Table 3). Even higher was the share for households with three or more dependent children (40.4 %).

Across the EU Member States in 2017, more than half of the population living in households with dependent children was unable to face unexpected financial expenses in Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Croatia and Latvia (where a peak of 56.9 % was recorded). At the other end of the range, less than one quarter of the population living in households with dependent children was unable to face unexpected financial expenses in Austria, Sweden, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Malta (where a share of 17.3 % was recorded).

A more detailed analysis reveals that people living alone or in single-parent households often reported more difficulty in facing unexpected financial expenses. In 2017, around three fifths (60.8 %) of people living in EU-28 households composed of single persons with dependent children were unable to face unexpected financial expenses. Relatively high shares were also recorded for households composed of single females (44.2 %) and single males (37.5 %).

In 2017, more than three quarters of the population living in single-parent households were unable to face unexpected financial expenses in Latvia (75.7 %) and Bulgaria (77.3 %), while this share exceeded four fifths in Ireland (where a peak of 83.8 % was recorded).

As noted above, almost half (44.2 %) of all single-female households in the EU-28 reported an inability to face unexpected financial expenses, with this share ranging from 21.4 % in Malta, up to 84.5 % in Bulgaria. In Italy, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania, the share of women living alone who faced difficulties in coping with unexpected financial expenses in 2017 was higher than for any of the other household types analysed in Table 3.

Households composed of two adults generally recorded lower levels of inability to deal with unexpected financial expenses. This was particularly the case for the subpopulation living in households composed of two adults with at least one member aged 65 years or over, among which approximately a quarter (23.4 %) of individuals in the EU-28 were unable to face unexpected financial expenses in 2017. This pattern was repeated in all of the EU Member States.

Figure 4: Population living in households, by their ability to make ends meet, EU-28, 2017
(Share of total population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_mdes09)

Just less than one tenth of the EU-28 population had great difficulty with making ends meet

Figure 4 presents an alternative measure of financial inclusion/exclusion, defined in relation to the ability of individuals “to make ends meet”; this indicator is based on a subjective measure, namely, a household’s self-perceived feeling about the level of difficulty they experience when paying for everyday expenses (items that are considered usual or necessary).

In 2017, 7.7 % of the EU-28 population reported great difficulty with making ends meet, while an additional 43.4 % reported difficulty or some difficulty in making ends meet; as such, more than half (51.1 %) of the EU-28 population perceived that they faced at least some difficulty in their ability to make ends meet in 2017. By contrast, approximately 1 in 20 persons (5.3 %) within the EU-28 population declared that it was very easy to make ends meet.


Figure 5: Share of population living in households that have difficulty or great difficulty in making ends meet, 2017
(Share of total population)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_mdes09)

Cross-country comparisons (see Figure 5) reveal that in 2017, more than half of the population of Bulgaria (58.4 %) reported having difficulty or great difficulty in making ends meet, while this share rose to more than three quarters of the population in Greece (77.2 %). Also, more than half the populations of North Macedonia (57.3 %; 2016 data) and Serbia (61.6 %) faced difficulty or great difficulty in making ends meet.

On the other hand, less than 1 in 10 persons in Denmark (9.4 %), Sweden (7.0 %), Finland (6.7 %), and Germany (6.1 %) reported facing difficulty or great difficulty in making ends meet; this was also the case in Norway (5.4 %; 2016 data).


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

Data sources

The data used in this section are primarily derived from data from EU statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC). EU-SILC is carried out annually and is the main survey that measures income and living conditions in Europe, and is the main source of information used to link different aspects relating to the quality of life at the household and individual level.

The reference population is all private households and their current members residing in the territory of an EU Member State at the time of data collection; persons living in collective households and in institutions are generally excluded from the target population. The EU-28 aggregate is a population-weighted average of individual national figures.

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