Interview: ‘GDP growth does not improve quality of life’

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“Simply improving GDP and living standards itself does not improve or makes only very slow changes to peoples’ assessment of their quality of life,” says Eurofound’s survey co-ordinator in an interview with euractiv.com.

“The unemployed consistently report a poorer quality of life across all member states,” explains Robert Anderson, research co-ordinator of quality of life and living conditions programmes at the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound). “And we do not ask them to compare themselves with those who are employed, but just ask how satisfied they are with their life and then examine their responses,” he added.

Creating more jobs could thus be considered as one of the main challenges facing the EU, with regards improving quality of life in Europe in general. “Simply improving GDP and living standards does not improve or makes only very slow changes to peoples’ assessment of their quality of life,” Anderson explained.

Other priorities could include improved opportunities for older people in the new member states, as they find that “their pension systems are no that good and they feel that the changes in the last 10-15 years are improving opportunities only for young people in their countries”.

In addition, “if more people feel healthy, they would certainly say that they have more life satisfaction. This is a major challenge as people in many member states point to problems with the quality of health systems and access to services.”

Asked whether money makes happiness in Europe, Anderson said that if one compares the highest income-earners in four poor countries with the lowest income-earners in rich countries, the quality of life is better for the lowest income-earner in rich countries. “This is due to the quality of society, environment, services and infrastructures.”

With regards social cohesion in an EU of 27 member states with varying quality-of-life levels, Anderson argues that “differences will narrow”. As to EU policies, the same policy or strategy can’t work for two countries in different situations. For example, “everybody agrees on some principles behind the concept of flexicurity, but also that one fixed model doesn’t suit every country – but this doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from each other.” 

Anderson also draws attention to the Commission’s recent initiative on social reality stocktaking (see European Social Reality survey report, February 2007). “It is about peoples’ assessment of their quality of life, their well-being, life satisfaction and how these relate to public-policy domains – whether it is care, employment, equal opportunities – and how changes in those domains should, in the end, make an impact on peoples’ assessments,” he explained. 

The first survey on Quality of life in Europe including EU-25, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, was published by Eurofound in 2003. The fieldwork for the second survey is set to be conducted in Autumn 2007 in the EU-27 and in Croatia, Turkey and Norway.

To read the full interview with Robert Anderson, click here.

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