Enlargement countries - statistics on living conditions

Data extracted in February 2019.

Planned article update: April 2020.


Share of population at risk of poverty after social transfers was 16.9 % in the EU-28 in 2017 — it was higher in all of the enlargement countries except for Bosnia and Herzegovina (where it was also 16.9 %).

Proportion of the population at risk of poverty after transfers, 2012 and 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li02)

This article is part of an online publication and provides information on a range of statistics related to living conditions in the European Union (EU) enlargement countries, in other words the candidate countries and potential candidates. Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Turkey currently have candidate country status, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo [1] are potential candidates.

The article includes information relating to income distribution, the risk of poverty (before and after social transfers), the proportion of jobless households, as well as health and social protection expenditure.

Full article

Income distribution

The income quintile share ratio, also known as the S80/S20 ratio, is a measure of the inequality of income distribution. It is calculated as the ratio of total income received by the 20 % of the population with the highest income (the top quintile) to that received by the 20 % of the population with the lowest income (the bottom quintile). Incomes are equivalised to take account of the varying composition of households.

Figure 1 shows that the income of the top population quintile in the EU-28 was just over five times the size of the income of the bottom population quintile in 2017, slightly higher than it had been in 2012. According to this indicator, all four candidate countries for which recent data are available reported a higher degree of income inequality than that observed in the EU-28. Between the two years shown in Figure 1, the income quintile share ratio fell in Turkey (over the period 2012-2016) and Montenegro (2013-2017) and more strongly in North Macedonia, while it rose in Serbia (2013-2017).

Figure 1: Inequality of income distribution (income quintile share ratio), 2012 and 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_di11)

The Gini coefficient is an alternative measure of income inequality. It shows the extent to which all incomes within the population differ from the average income: the closer the coefficient is to 100 the less equal are the incomes, while the closer it is to 0 the more equal are the incomes. In the EU-28, the Gini coefficient in 2017 was 30.7, almost the same as the ratio recorded in 2007 (30.6; data for the EU excluding Croatia). As was already observed for the income quintile share ratio, Gini coefficients for the enlargement countries were also higher than in the EU-28, suggesting that income disparities were greater in the enlargement countries; note that no recent data are available for either Albania or Kosovo and that older data (for 2008) for Albania show a Gini coefficient that was lower than that for the EU-28. In Figure 2 three enlargement countries have data for a recent year and another year approximately 10 years earlier and all reported a fall in the Gini coefficient during the period shown.

Figure 2: Gini coefficient, 2007 and 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_di12)

Monetary poverty

The poverty threshold shown in Table 1 is set at 60 % of the national median equivalised disposable income (after social transfers). The total net income of each household is calculated by adding together the income received by all the members of the household from all sources. For each person, the equivalised total net income is calculated as the household’s total net income divided by the equivalised household size, the latter generally based on the modified OECD scale: a weight of 1.0 for the first adult, 0.5 for other persons aged 14 or over who are living in the household and 0.3 for each child aged less than 14.

The poverty threshold is shown as a monthly income, ranging in 2017 among the enlargement countries for which data are available from the equivalent of EUR 122 in North Macedonia to EUR 193 in Turkey (2016 data) and 199 in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2015 data).

Table 1: Poverty main indicators, 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li02), (ilc_li09) and (ilc_li01)

The at-risk-of-poverty rate is the proportion of the population with an equivalised disposable income below the poverty threshold. This indicator can be calculated either before social transfers or after social transfers, the difference reflecting the proportion of the population moved above the threshold as a result of receiving social transfers. Social transfers cover the social help given through benefits such as: old-age and survivors’ (widows’ and widowers’) pensions; unemployment, family-related, sickness and invalidity, education-related and other benefits; housing allowances; social assistance.

As the poverty threshold is set independently for each country, the indicator reflects low income in comparison with other residents of the same country, which does not necessarily imply a low standard of living. In the EU-28, 43.8 % of the population were at risk of poverty in 2017 before social transfers, with this share dropping to 16.9 % as a consequence of social transfers. At-risk-of-poverty rates before transfers are available for four candidate countries, all of which reported rates that were below that of the EU-28. Concerning rates after social transfers, four of the five enlargement countries for which data are available reported rates that were higher than in the EU-28 and one, Bosnia and Herzegovina (2015 data), a rate that was the same (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Proportion of the population at risk of poverty after transfers, 2012 and 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li02)

Jobless households

Indicators on households with very low work intensity are normally compiled from a labour force survey and identify households where, on average, the adults (aged 18-59, excluding students) worked 20 % or less of their total work potential during the previous year. The two indicators presented in Figure 4 and Table 2 concern different sub-populations, namely people aged 0-17 and those of working age, in this case defined as 18-59 years.

Figure 4: Proportion of persons who are living in households with very low work intensity, 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_lvhl11) and (demo_pjan)

In 2017, there was a small difference — 1.6 percentage points — between the values observed for these two sub-populations in the EU-28, with 8.1 % of persons aged 0-17 years and 9.7 % of persons aged 18-59 years living in households with very low work intensity. In the four enlargement countries for which data are available the differences between the proportions for the two age groups were larger, most notably in Montenegro. In North Macedonia the proportion of people aged 0-17 living in households with very low work intensity was higher than the equivalent proportion for people aged 18-59 years, while the reverse was true elsewhere.

In Turkey (2016 data), the proportions were broadly similar to those observed in the EU-28, albeit with somewhat higher rates for people of working age and lower rates for those aged 0-17 years. Elsewhere the proportions were considerably higher than in the EU-28: in North Macedonia close to one in five (19.4 %) people aged 0-17 years were living in households with very low work intensity as were nearly one in six (16.0 %) people of working age; in Serbia both proportions were close to one fifth.

For both age groups, the proportion of people living in households with very low work intensity in the EU-28 was around 1 percentage point lower in 2017 than in 2012. Equally, North Macedonia and Turkey (2012-2016) also recorded decreases in the proportion of people living in households with very low work intensity for both age groups. By contrast, Montenegro and Serbia (both 2013-2017) recorded an increase for both age groups.

Table 2: Proportion of persons who are living in households with very low work intensity, 2012 and 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_lvhl11) and (demo_pjan)

Health and social protection expenditure

Total expenditure on health concerns total current expenditure on health and investment, regardless of the source of funds. It covers: curative and rehabilitative care (in-patient care, day cases, out-patient and home care); services of long-term nursing care (in-patient, day cases and home care); ancillary services to health care; medical goods dispensed to out-patients; services of prevention and public health; health administration and health insurance. The level of expenditure on health relative to gross domestic product (GDP) ranged greatly between the four enlargement countries for which recent data are available in Table 3, from 1.8 % of GDP in Kosovo, through 4.5 % in Turkey to 8.8 % in Serbia and 9.2 % in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2016 data).

Table 3: Expenditure on health, social protection benefits and pensions, relative to gross domestic product, 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017
(% of GDP)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_sha11_hp) and (spr_exp_sum)

Social protection expenditure comprises social protection benefits, administration costs and other expenditure: the data shown in Table 3 only concern the benefits. Social benefits consist of transfers, in cash or in kind, by social protection schemes to households and individuals to relieve them of the burden of a defined set of risks or needs, provided that there is neither a simultaneous reciprocal nor an individual arrangement involved. The list of risks or needs is fixed as: sickness/health care; disability; old-age; survivors; family/children; unemployment; housing; and other social exclusion. Note that not all health expenditure falls within social protection expenditure.

In 2016, expenditure on social protection benefits in the EU-28 was equivalent to more than one quarter (27.1 %) of GDP. This level was higher than in the three enlargement countries for which data are available: in Serbia the ratio was 21.0 %, while in Turkey (12.6 %) the ratio was less than half the level recorded in the EU-28 and in Kosovo (7.0 %; 2014 data) it was around one quarter of the EU-28 level.

The ratio of expenditure on social protection benefits to GDP was almost the same in the EU-28 in 2016 as it had been in 2011. The two candidate countries for which data are available for both years in Table 3 reported different developments in this ratio over the period of time shown: in Serbia there was a fall of 1.2 percentage points between 2011 and 2016 while in Turkey there was an increase of 0.5 points during the same period.

One factor in the increase of expenditure on social protection benefits is the increase in pensions, which may be linked (at least in part) to an ageing population. Between 2011 and 2016, the ratio of social protection expenditure on pensions relative to GDP rose from 12.3 % to 12.4 % in the EU-28. Turkey reported an increase in this ratio, from 7.1 % in 2011 to 7.7 % in 2016. Expenditure on pensions accounted for just under half of the total expenditure on social protection benefits in the EU-28 in 2016; by contrast, this share was nearer to three fifths in Turkey.

Figure 5: Expenditure on health, social protection benefits and pensions, relative to gross domestic product, 2016 and 2017
(% of GDP)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_sha11_hp) and (spr_exp_sum)

Data sources

Data for the enlargement countries are collected for a wide range of indicators each year through a questionnaire that is sent by Eurostat to partner countries which have either the status of candidate countries or potential candidates. A network of contacts in each country has been established for updating these questionnaires, generally within the national statistical offices, but potentially including representatives of other data-producing organisations (for example, central banks or government ministries). The statistics shown in this article are made available free-of-charge on Eurostat’s website, together with other socio-economic indicators collected as part of this initiative.

EU statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) is an instrument that aims to collect timely and comparable data on income, poverty, social inclusion and living conditions, in both monetary and non-monetary terms. The data are generally collected for private households and household members. EU-SILC provides both cross-sectional data and longitudinal data (typically over a four-year period). The legal basis for this data collection exercise is a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council (EC) 1177/2003 concerning Community statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC); it is supported by a series of implementing regulations and special data collection modules that relate to the collection of secondary variables on a less regular basis.

The European system of integrated social protection statistics (ESSPROS) is a common framework developed within the European Statistical System (ESS) that has been designed to provide a coherent comparison across European countries (28 EU Member States plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Serbia and Turkey) of social benefits to households and their financing, in terms of precisely defined risks or needs that refer to the ESSPROS functions: disability, sickness/health care, old-age, survivors, family/children, unemployment, housing and social exclusion. The legal basis for the data collection exercise is provided by Regulation (EC) No 458/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European system of integrated social protection statistics (ESSPROS). ESSPROS is composed of a core system that contains annual data from 1990 onwards on (gross) expenditures and receipts. In addition to the core system, one module on pension beneficiaries and one on net social benefits data are available.

Tables in this article use the following notation:

Value in italics     data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change;
: not available.


Social protection systems are generally well-developed in the EU: they are designed to protect people (to some degree) against the risks and needs associated with unemployment, parental responsibilities, sickness/health care and invalidity/disability, the loss of a spouse or parent, old-age, housing and other forms of social exclusion.

The main policy framework in this domain concerns the open method of coordination (OMC) for social protection and social inclusion, which aims to promote social cohesion and equality, through adequate, accessible and financially sustainable social protection systems and social inclusion policies. A Communication from the European Commission Working together, working better: a new framework for the open coordination of social protection and inclusion policies in the European Union (COM(2005) 706 final) outlines the objectives, which include:

  • making a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty and social exclusion;
  • providing adequate and sustainable pensions;
  • ensuring accessible, high-quality and sustainable healthcare and long-term care.

While basic principles and institutional frameworks for producing statistics are already in place, the enlargement countries are expected to increase progressively the volume and quality of their data and to transmit these data to Eurostat in the context of the EU enlargement process. EU standards in the field of statistics require the existence of a statistical infrastructure based on principles such as professional independence, impartiality, relevance, confidentiality of individual data and easy access to official statistics; they cover methodology, classifications and standards for production.

Eurostat has the responsibility to ensure that statistical production of the enlargement countries complies with the EU acquis in the field of statistics. To do so, Eurostat supports the national statistical offices and other producers of official statistics through a range of initiatives, such as pilot surveys, training courses, traineeships, study visits, workshops and seminars, and participation in meetings within the European Statistical System. The ultimate goal is the provision of harmonised, high-quality data that conforms to European and international standards.

Additional information on statistical cooperation with the enlargement countries is provided here.


  1. This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence
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