Living conditions in Europe - housing quality
Data extracted in March 2019
Planned article update: March 2021
In 2017, 10 % of the EU population spent 40 % or more of their household disposable income on housing.
In 2017, 42 % of the EU population lived in flats, one third (34 %) lived in detached houses and almost one quarter (24 %) lived in semi-detached houses.
16 % of the EU population lived in overcrowded households in 2017.
Some 8 % of the EU population were unable to keep their home adequately warm in 2017.
This article is part of a set of statistical articles that form 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.
In the context of material living standards and well-being, housing is a fundamental characteristic. Indeed, many people would agree that being able to afford adequate housing of decent quality in a safe environment is a basic need, as a dwelling should provide shelter, adequate space for its occupants to live, eat and sleep, as well as a degree of privacy for the household as a whole and for its individual members.
Housing quality is a broad term that covers a wide range of issues, which are related not only to the dwelling itself, but also to the broader residential area surrounding where people live. Housing quality may be assessed, for example, in relation to: structural issues such as damp walls or a leaking roof; overcrowding or a shortage of space; the ability to keep the home adequately warm or, a lack of basic amenities (for example, hot and cold running water, or bathing and sanitary facilities). It may also be assessed through a wider residential context, for example, whether (or not) people are living in a noisy area, are exposed to pollution, or feel unsafe in their neighbourhood. The information presented in this article generally analyses these aspects in terms of the subjective responses of individuals to questions about their local environment.
Overall, 15.7 % of Europeans lived in an overcrowded household in 2017. There were considerable differences between EU Member States, with overcrowding more prevalent in the southern and eastern Member States, while cross-country comparisons revealed that the highest levels of overcrowding were usually concentrated in cities (where space is often at a premium).
In 2017, some 13.3 % of the EU-28 population reported that they were living in a dwelling with a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames or the floor, while over half of this share of the population — some 7.8 % — were unable to keep their home adequately warm.
In 2017, 17.5 % of the EU-28 population considered that noise from neighbours or from the street was a problem; this share was slightly higher than the corresponding proportions of the EU-28 population who declared that they faced problems in relation to pollution and grime (14.1 %), or crime, violence or vandalism (12.0 %). For all three of these issues, the prevalence of these problems across the EU-28 diminished during the six-year period from 2011 to 2017.
For many households, the largest single expenditure item each month is in relation to housing costs. In those cases where housing costs represent a considerable share of total household expenditure, it is increasingly likely that the population may have to defer or cancel expenditure on other items (possibly in relation to some basic needs). The housing cost overburden rate is defined by those households which allocate 40 % or more of their disposable income to housing. In 2017, this rate covered 10.4 % of the EU-28 population (and was much higher among tenants than owners), with shares rising above 15.0 % in Denmark and Bulgaria, while a peak of 39.6 % was recorded in Greece. Also, in Serbia, the housing cost overburden rate was particularly high (33.6%).
Poor housing conditions are one of the main contributing factors that prevent Europeans from enjoying an acceptable standard of living. The first part of this article analyses the distribution of housing stock before looking in more detail at overcrowding, living space and structural issues that impact on the quality of housing available to people living in the EU.
Europeans tend to live more in houses than in flats
In 2017, 41.9 % of the EU-28 population lived in flats, while the majority of people lived in houses — just over one third (33.6 %) of the population lived in detached houses and almost one quarter (24.0 %) were living in semi-detached houses (see Figure 1).
The share of persons living in flats ranged from 8.3 % in Ireland and 14.7 % in the United Kingdom, to more than three out of every five people in Estonia (61.8 %), Spain (66.1 %), and Latvia (66.4 %).
By contrast, more than half of the population in Poland (50.5 %) and Denmark (54.1 %) lived in detached houses, while this share rose to more than 60.0 % in Hungary (63.8 %), Romania (64.7 %) and Slovenia (65.2 %), peaking at 70.7 % in Croatia; a relatively high share of the populations in Norway (58.5 %), Serbia (63.6 %) and North Macedonia (74.3 %) also lived in detached houses.
Ireland (51.7 %), the Netherlands (58.7 %) and the United Kingdom (60.4 %) were the only EU Member States where more than half of the population was living in a semi-detached house in 2017.
Almost 7 out of 10 persons in the EU-28 lived in an owner-occupied dwelling
Many Europeans strive to become homeowners, as this may offer increased security of tenure, while at the same time providing a means of generating wealth.
In 2017, almost 7 out of 10 (69.3 %) persons in the EU-28 lived in an owner-occupied dwelling (see Table 1). Across each of the EU Member States, at least half of the population owned their own home, with this share ranging from 51.4 % in Germany and 55.0 % in Austria — the only Member States having less than 60.0 % of their population owning their own dwelling — to 90.1 % in Slovakia, 90.5 % in Croatia and 96.8 % in Romania.
A closer analysis reveals that 42.8 % of the EU-28 population lived in an owner-occupied dwelling without a housing loan or mortgage in 2017. The share of the population that were homeowners and did not have an outstanding mortgage or housing loan was generally quite high in eastern Europe and the Baltic Member States: for example, in Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria it rose to more than 80.0 %. By contrast, in much of western Europe, more than one third of homeowners had a mortgage or loan and this share rose to more than half in Sweden (52.2 %) and the Netherlands (60.7 %); high shares were also recorded in Norway (60.5 %) and Iceland (63.9 %; 2016 data).
Just over three tenths (30.7 %) of the EU-28 population lived in rented accommodation in 2017: some 20.0 % of the population were tenants living in dwellings with a market rent, while 10.7 % lived in rent-free or reduced-price dwellings. Among the EU Member States, the share of people living in a dwelling with a market price rent rose to more than 30.0 % in Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Germany (where a peak of 40.0 % was recorded). There was a relatively high share of the population living in rent-free or reduced-price dwellings in France (16.4 %), the United Kingdom (17.9 %), Ireland (18.0 %) and Slovenia (19.0 %); this was also the case in Turkey (15.8 %; 2016 data).
Despite a slowdown in population growth, many EU Member States are characterised by a shortage of (adequate) housing; this reflects, at least in part, a change in the composition of households, as an increasing share of the population choose to live alone, while fewer extended families occupy the same dwelling.
The overcrowding rate is defined on the basis of the number of rooms available to a household, the household’s size, family situation and the ages of its members. In 2017, some 15.7 % of the EU-28 population lived in an overcrowded household; this rate ranged from a low of less than 5.0 % in Malta, Cyprus, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, to more than 40.0 % in Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Latvia and Romania (where the highest share was recorded, at 47.0 %).
As such, the overcrowding rate was generally higher in eastern and, to a lesser degree, southern Europe, while it was generally lower in western Europe and the Nordic Member States (see Map 1).
Figure 2 shows that people living in rural areas were on the whole slightly more likely to be living in crowded conditions than those living in cities or towns and suburbs. In 2017, 16.8 % of countryside residents in the EU-28 were living in an overcrowded household, while the corresponding shares for people living in cities (16.1 %) and towns and suburbs (14.2 %) were somewhat lower.
There was more variation among the EU Member States in terms of the distribution of overcrowded households by degree of urbanisation. In 2017, overcrowding rates for people living in the cities of Denmark and Sweden were around 10 percentage points higher than for the population living in rural areas, while this gap widened to 16.9 points difference in Bulgaria and peaked at 19.6 points difference in Austria. Exceptions to this pattern of higher levels of overcrowding in cities were notably in Slovakia, Lithuania, Spain and Cyprus (where the highest overcrowding rates were recorded for people living in towns and suburbs) and Poland, Hungary and Romania (where the highest overcrowding rates were recorded for people living in rural areas).
Alongside the overcrowding rate, another measure which may be used to analyse living space is the average number of rooms per person. In 2017, each EU-28 inhabitant had an average of 1.6 rooms.
The average number of rooms per person was slightly lower, at 1.6, for those people living in cities than it was for those people living in rural areas (1.7 rooms). Differences in the average numbers of rooms per person were generally much greater between EU Member States rather than within individual Member States. In 2017, the average number of rooms per person ranged from a high of 2.2 in Malta (rural areas: low reliability) and values of at least 2.0 rooms per person in the Netherlands, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Belgium, down to 1.1 rooms per person in Croatia, Poland and Romania. Among the non-member countries, Norway recorded the highest average number of rooms per person (2.1), while the average in Serbia (0.9 rooms) was lower than in any of the EU Member States.
People living in rural areas tended to report the highest (or joint highest) average number of rooms per person. In 2017, this pattern held in the vast majority of the EU Member States, although the highest average number of rooms in Cyprus and Slovenia was recorded for people living in cities, and in the Netherlands and Croatia for people living in towns and suburbs (Figure 3).
A comparison within individual EU Member States reveals that the average number of rooms per person was generally quite similar when analysed by degree of urbanisation. In Poland and Hungary, those living in rural areas had, 1.1 respectively 1.2 rooms per person, the same as for people living in the cities or towns and suburbs.
In 2017, the average number of rooms per person was somewhat higher, at 1.7 rooms, for EU-28 homeowners than it was for tenants living in rented accommodation, 1.5 rooms per person (see Table 2). As may be expected, the space available to people living in houses was, on average, greater than that available to people living in flats. This was particularly the case among homeowners, as people living in houses had, on average, 0.3 more rooms per person than homeowners living in flats. There was almost no difference in the average size of dwellings among tenants, whether they resided in houses (1.6 rooms per person) or flats (1.5 rooms per person).
The average number of rooms per person was higher for homeowners than for tenants in each of the EU Member States in 2017, with the exception of the Netherlands (where tenants lived, on average, in larger dwellings with 2.2 rooms vs. 1.9 rooms) and Malta (where the dwellings were of similar size).
Space constraints on tenants were particularly apparent in Ireland, where tenants had 0.7 fewer rooms per person than homeowners; in Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, Austria and Sweden the corresponding gap was at least 0.5 rooms in favour of homeowners.
Structural problems for dwellings
Among the various structural problems that may be experienced in a dwelling, some 13.3 % of the EU-28 population reported that, in 2017, their home had a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundations, or rot in its window frames or floor. Between 2007 and 2009, the proportion of the EU population that lived in a dwelling that was affected by at least one of these issues, fell from 18.0 % to 16.0 %. There was a slight increase in 2010 (16.1 % which may be linked to a lack of investment following the global financial and economic crisis), after which the share of population living in a dwelling with a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in its window frames or floor fluctuated between 15.1 % and 15.7 %, before settling at nearly 2 pp (percentage points) lower in 2017 (see Figure 4).
Nearly 8 % of the EU population was unable to keep their home adequately warm
Overall, some 7.8 % of the EU-28 population in 2017 could not afford to keep their home adequately warm (see Table 3); this share increased to 18.4 % of the EU-28 population when analysing those individuals who were at risk of poverty.
In 2017, more than one fifth of the population living in Portugal (20.4 %) and Cyprus (22.9 %) and more than one quarter of the population living in Greece (25.7 %) and Lithuania (28.9 %) was unable to keep their home adequately warm; this share peaked in Bulgaria, at 36.5 %.
Among those subpopulations at risk of poverty, the share that could not afford to adequately warm their home in 2017 was higher than 20.0 % in nine EU Member States, and was particularly high in Lithuania (35.6 %), Portugal (38.9 %), Greece (45.3 %), Cyprus (46.8 %), and Bulgaria (59.5 %).
Energy prices tend to fluctuate far more than the inflation rate and during the period 2011-2013 they rose significantly. However, from 2014 to 2016, the price of energy fell at quite a rapid pace; followed in 2017 again by a noteworthy rise. By contrast, the share of the EU-28 population that was unable to keep their home adequately warm, which peaked in 2012 and 2013, after which it fell at an increasing pace during the period 2014 to 2017.
Living conditions are also affected by the quality of the local environment around the residential areas where people live. Some people express concerns about issues such as noise, pollution, crime, violence or vandalism, which may impact on their quality of life.
Noise was the most widespread environmental problem for people living in the EU
In 2017, noise from neighbours or from the street was the most widespread environmental problem, as reported by 17.5 % of EU-28 inhabitants. An analysis reveals that the issue of noise was particularly prevalent among those populations living in Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Malta, where between one quarter and one fifth of the population complained about noise in the local area where they lived, a share that rose to 25.6 % in the Netherlands and 26.1 % in Germany (see Table 4).
Compared with the other two issues presented in table 4, noise was the main problem reported in the majority (16 out of 28) of the EU Member States in 2017. It was, however, more common to find that people in Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Slovenia, Latvia, Greece and Malta complained about problems relating to pollution, grime or other environmental issues, while in Bulgaria, the United Kingdom and Ireland it was more common for people to complain about crime, violence or vandalism.
Between 2011 and 2017, the share of the EU-28 population perceiving noise as a problem dropped by 2.2 percentage points (pp). There were reductions of 1.0 (pp) and 2.1 (pp), respectively, in the shares of people who perceived pollution, grime and other environmental problems to be an issue and the shares of people who perceived crime, violence or vandalism to be an issue.
Among the EU Member States, it was commonplace to find a reduction in the proportion of people who claimed their living standards were affected by these three issues during the period 2011-2017.
- The proportion of people living in Romania and Cyprus who were affected by noise from their neighbours or from the street fell at a rapid pace (9.0 pp and 10.6 pp, respectively),
- The same was true in Cyprus and Malta for people affected by pollution, grime or other environmental problems (9.4 pp and 14.6 pp, respectively),
- In Denmark and Latvia for people affected by crime, violence and vandalism (7.9 pp and 11.0 pp, respectively).
By contrast, during the period 2011 to 2017, an increasing proportion (+7.0, 7.3 and 1.3 pp) of the population living in Luxembourg was affected by all three of these issues, while there was a relatively large increase in the share of the population in Lithuania that was affected by crime, violence and vandalism (up 3.4 pp).
Table 5 shows that across the EU-28, any of these problems were more likely to be faced by the population at risk of poverty than by the total population. In 2017, the share of the population affected by noise was 3.3 pp higher for the population living at risk of poverty than for the whole population, while the share of people living at risk of poverty and affected by crime, violence or vandalism was 2.6 pp higher than the average for the whole population. The share of people living at risk of poverty and affected by pollution, grime and other environmental problems was 1.9 pp higher than for the total population.
In 2017, the share of the population at risk of poverty and concerned by noise from neighbours or from the street was at least 1.6 times as high as the share recorded for the whole population in Ireland, Belgium, Finland and Denmark. Latvia, Malta, Poland, the United Kingdom, Greece, Croatia and Romania were the only EU Member States to report that their subpopulations at risk of poverty were less likely to be exposed to noise than the average recorded for the total population.
In a similar vein, the share of the population at risk of poverty and concerned by pollution, grime or other environmental problems was at least 1.6 times as high as the share recorded for the whole population in Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Ireland, while the share of the population at risk of poverty and concerned by crime, violence or vandalism was at least 1.5 times as high as the share recorded for the total population in Belgium and Hungary.
Europeans living in urban areas were generally more concerned with noise than those living in rural areas.
On average, 23.2 % of the EU-28’s population living in cities perceived noise from neighbours or from the street to be a problem in 2017. The share of the population suffering from noise was lower for those people living in towns and suburbs (16.6 %) or in rural areas (10.4 %) — see Figure 5.
In 2017, pollution, grime and other environmental issues were perceived as problems by 19.4 % of city-dwellers across the EU-28 and particularly high with over 30% in Greece and Germany (see Figure 6). Such problems were less prevalent among the subpopulations living in towns and suburbs (12.9 %) and especially rural areas (8.1 %).
In 2017, almost one in five (18.0 %) persons living in cities across the EU-28 perceived crime, violence or vandalism as a problem. This share fell to 9.9 % among the subpopulation that was living in towns and suburbs, and to 5.8 % for those people living in rural areas (see Figure 7).
As such, people living in cities across the EU-28 were, on average, more concerned by all three problems identified as having an impact on their living conditions and local environment
Among the EU Member States, a similar pattern was observed in 2017, with the following exceptions:
- Noise from neighbours or from the street was most commonly perceived as a problem by the subpopulation living in towns and suburbs in Slovakia,
- Pollution, grime or other environmental problems were more frequently cited as problems by the subpopulations living in towns and suburbs in Luxembourg, Slovakia, Cyprus and Estonia.
In 2010, a European Commission Communication, titled the European platform against poverty and social exclusion: a European framework for social and territorial cohesion(COM(2010) 758 final), addressed the issue of affordable accommodation by declaring that ’access to affordable accommodation is a fundamental need and right’. That said, housing costs often make up the largest component of expenditure for many households, thereby potentially leading to deferred or cancelled expenditure, possibly in relation to other basic needs.
Some 10.4 % of the EU-28 population spent 40 % or more of their household disposable income on housing
Housing affordability may be analysed through the housing cost overburden rate, which shows the share of the population living in households that spend 40 % or more of their disposable income on housing.
The housing cost overburden rate for the EU-28 was 10.4 % in 2017. There were, however, large differences between the EU Member States, as the lowest rates — less than 6.0 % — were recorded in eight Member States, with lows of 2.8 % in Cyprus and 1.4 % in Malta (see Map 2). By contrast, the housing cost overburden rate was at least 15.0 % in Denmark and Bulgaria, rising to a peak of 39.6 % in Greece; a high share (33.6 %) was also recorded in Serbia. These differences may, at least partially, reflect differences in national policies for social housing or public subsidies and benefits that are provided by governments for housing.
Having fluctuated between 2011 and 2017, the EU-28’s housing cost overburden rate was 1.0 pp lower at the end of the period under consideration (see Table 6). In 22 of the EU Member States, the housing cost overburden rate fell between 2011 and 2017, while there were five Member States where the rate increased and one where it remained unchanged. The biggest reductions for the housing cost overburden rate were recorded in Latvia (down 5.6 pp), the Netherlands (-5.1 pp) and the United Kingdom (-4.0 pp). Note the relatively steady downward pattern to the rates observed in Latvia. The highest increases were recorded in Greece (15.4 pp), Bulgaria (10.2 pp; note a break in series in 2016) and Luxembourg (5.8 pp; note a break in series in 2016).
The share of the population living in households that spent 40 % or more of their disposable income on housing was significantly greater among EU-28 tenants than it was among homeowners in 2017, as shown in Table 7. This was especially the case for tenants living in dwellings with a market price rent, for whom the housing cost overburden rate was 26.3 %, while it was 4.7 % for homeowners with a mortgage.
The housing cost overburden rate varied considerably across the EU Member States in 2017 when analysed by tenure status. For tenants living in dwellings with a market price rent, it ranged from a low of 11.2 % in Latvia up to 60.4 % in Romania and 83.9 % in Greece.
For homeowners that had a mortgage, the housing cost overburden rate ranged from less than 2.0 % in Finland, Austria, Malta, Cyprus, Ireland and France, up to more than one sixth in Romania, and more than a quarter in Greece.
Figure 8 provides an alternative analysis, as it focuses on the share of the population that spent more than half of their disposable income on housing costs. Across the EU-28, close to one in six (15.7 %) tenants living in dwellings with a market price rent spent more than half of their disposable income on housing costs in 2017.
The share of tenants living in dwellings with a market price rent that spent more than half of their disposable income on housing costs was systematically higher than the share for the whole population across all 28 of the EU Member States. In Greece and Romania, at least 4 out of every 10 tenants living in dwellings with a market price rent spent more than half of their disposable income on housing costs in 2017.
Household consumption expenditure
National accounts provide information about household consumption expenditure on goods and services; this information may be analysed according to the classification of individual consumption by purpose (COICOP), where Division 04 covers housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels.
In 2017, the average amount spent by each inhabitant in the EU-28 on housing-related purposes averaged EUR 3 900. There were considerable variations between the EU Member States, reflecting differences in both rental/house prices and utility prices.
In 2017, average expenditure per inhabitant on housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels ranged from EUR 900 in Bulgaria and EUR 1 200 in Hungary, up to EUR 6 000 in Finland and EUR 6 700 in Denmark, reaching a peak of EUR 7 800 in Luxembourg.
In 12 of the 27 EU Member States for which data are available, expenditure per inhabitant on housing-related items was above the EU-28 average (as denoted by the darker shaded areas in Map 3) — most of these are located in central and northern Europe. By contrast, expenditure was lower than the EU-28 average in peripheral EU countries.
The share of housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels in EU-28 final household consumption expenditure was 24.2 % in 2017 (which was slightly higher than 11 years before - see Table 8). The highest proportion was attributed to imputed rentals for housing (12.9 % of final household consumption expenditure), followed by actual rentals (4.8 %), electricity, gas and other fuels (3.9 %), water supply and related services (1.6 %) and maintenance and repair for dwellings (0.9 %).
Source data for tables and graphs
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.
- Regulation (EC) No 1177/2003 — framework regulation — this is the central piece of legislation which sets up the whole EU-SILC instrument
- Detailed list of legislative information on EU-SILC provisions for survey design, survey characteristics, data transmission and ad-hoc modules