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Economic Disparities and Life Satisfaction in European Regions

Grazia Pittau, Roberto Zelli, and I came out with a paper investigating the role of economic variables in predicting regional disparities in reported life satisfaction of European Union citizens. We use multilevel modeling to explicitly account for the hierarchical nature of our data, respondents within regions and countries, and for understanding patterns of variation within and between regions. Here’s what we found:

– Personal income matters more in poor regions than in rich regions, a pattern that still holds for regions within the same country.

– Being unemployed is negatively associated with life satisfaction even after controlled for income variation. Living in high unemployment regions does not alleviate the unhappiness of being out of work.

– After controlling for individual characteristics and modeling interactions, regional differences in life satisfaction still remain.

Here’s a quick graph; there’s more in the article:



  1. DaveG says:

    My comment is a bit tangential – but here goes.

    I would love to see a comparison of the inequality & regional differences between the EU & the USA. The data must be there.

    Why? I have a suspicion that the differences in the USA are as big or bigger than within the EU, and that would be something concrete against the idea that the Euro cannot survive because of 'structural issues'.

  2. DaveG says:

    A very interesting feature the two countries with possibly two groups are the UK & Germany both composed of one of more ex-countries.

    Can you separate wales, Scotland, NI, and East vs West Germany in the original data?


  3. Phil says:

    Perhaps naively, I would have expected a substantial correlation between suicide rates and levels of unhappiness. That is, if a society is unsatisfied on average, I would have expected a higher suicide rate than if the society is satisfied on average. But I don't see much sign of such a relationship when I compare suicide rates to the average life satisfaction. For instance, the median suicide rate in the five most satisfied countries is that of Ireland, 9.3 per 100K. The median suicide rate in the five least satisfied countries is that of Germany, 9.4 per 100K. Of the five highest suicide rates, three are from the middle of the satisfaction list, one is from the group of most satisfied countries, and one is from the group of least satisfied countries.

    Perhaps my view of suicide is too simplistic — maybe suicides don't represent the least-satisfied tail of a central satisfaction distribution within each country. Comments, Andrew?

  4. Philip R says:

    There is a lovely lecture from Prof. Richard layard on the topic. It touches some issue raised in the comments:

  5. thom says:

    @Phil: I think that is naive. Suicide is largely a mental health issue. Does anyone commit suicide because of low life satisfaction per se? In addition, there are big cultural and demographic factors at work (e.g., Catholic vs. non-Catholic; page group effects) and correlations with latitude (hours of daylight). An educated guess suggests high suicide rates in non-Catholic, Northern latitude countries with a high proportion of young males and perhaps high youth unemployment and poor mental health provision.