While life satisfaction grew slightly across the EU between 2007 and 2011, happiness and optimism levels fell, according to a new survey by Eurofound, which highlights a growing gap between low and high income groups since the financial and economic crisis broke.

The report by Eurofound, a tripartite EU agency, was conducted in all 28 EU member states as well as a further six European countries and assesses the impact of the crisis on the subjective well-being of Europeans.

The report states that Denmark, followed by Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands, continue to have the highest levels of well-being in most measurements.

In countries where there have been increases in well-being, they have been enjoyed by those in the highest-income quartiles, the study said.

At the same time, the largest falls were experienced by those in the bottom-income categories, indicating that the gap in well-being between the wealthiest and the poorest members of the population has grown during the crisis.

However, both Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands reported lower satisfaction in 2011 than in 2007 despite the moderate impact of the economic crisis on these countries.

While Estonia and Greece have suffered the sharpest falls in well-being since 2007, improvements were recorded in several lower-income countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania.

"Whereas policymakers seeking to maximise GDP might look to Germany for lessons, those seeking to increase well-being would do better looking at Denmark, Poland or even Spain, which at least in 2011 appeared to be holding up, despite the crisis, in terms of average well-being and low well-being inequality," said Rob Anderson, the team leader at Eurofound’s European quality of life survey.

Dissatisfaction hits specific groups

The survey also shows that the crisis has affected some groups more than others. 

Those who suffer from illness or disability, those who are separated or divorced, and individuals in the middle-age bracket of 35–49 years have the lowest well-being.

The lowest levels of subjective well-being overall were reported by unemployed people.

The report further reveals the particular aspects of well-being where EU member states do either poorly or well. In France, for example, high levels of stress are found, whereas high levels of loneliness are found in Italy and low levels of vitality in the UK.

Conversely, a high level of education satisfaction is noted in Romania and in the Netherlands, where people also report low levels of time pressure. 

The study identified Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the UK as having particularly large levels of well-being inequality.