Friday 22 March 2019

Living here means there are more reasons to be cheerful than just Christmas

According to a survey we Irish are among the most content in Europe. Only the Austrians, Danes, Finns and Luxembourgers claim to be more cheerful. (stock image)
According to a survey we Irish are among the most content in Europe. Only the Austrians, Danes, Finns and Luxembourgers claim to be more cheerful. (stock image)
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

On days such as these, when most people are starting to relax into their Christmas break, quality of life issues are to fore. But they are also increasingly recognised as of importance for businesses. Happy employees are more productive. They are easier to deal with than unhappy and disgruntled ones too.

Lifestyle matters are of particular importance for Ireland, which is so dependent on foreign companies locating here and maintaining a presence in the country. The significance of quality of life has been highlighted recently by the continent-wide scramble for high-paying jobs likely to leave the UK as Brexit approaches.

Eurofound, an EU agency located in Ireland, provided plenty of insights into quality of life issues in general, and liveability issues that are matter to business more generally, in a recent survey.

Its European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) was first carried out in 2003 and is conducted every half decade or so. It is a huge, continent-wide opinion poll on many aspects of day-to-day life.

The latest EQLS was carried out last year. It shows that there has been plenty of progress since the last survey, with many measures recovering to 2007 levels before the financial crisis took its long-lasting toll.

One the most important metrics in these surveys is self-reported happiness and satisfaction with life. Here the questions are asked on a scale of one to 10, with one being the worst and 10 being the best. Ireland scores a 7.8 in terms of happiness and a 7.7 for life satisfaction. The EU averages are 7.4 and 7.1 respectively.

According to the survey we Irish are among the most content in Europe. Only the Austrians, Danes, Finns and Luxembourgers claim to be more cheerful.

Quality of life surveys have been proposed as alternative indicators to economy-focused ones for how a country is performing for its citizens, in part to acknowledge that there's more to life than money.

While that is of course true, Eurofound notes that answers to questions about quality of life broadly followed the economic cycle - reported happiness and life satisfaction fell during the economic crisis and then rose in most countries, including Ireland, when the economy recovered.

An important indicator of how people assess their overall life quality is how they view the future, something that is also of relevance economically as upbeat consumers spend more and optimistic entrepreneurs take more risks.

According to Eurofound's survey, Ireland is a land of optimists. A big majority - 81pc - of Irish people are optimistic about their own future, while 79pc hold the same view when it comes to the futures of their children and grandchildren. Only three peoples (all Nordic) were more positive.

This is in marked contrast to a number of other countries.

The French are much more positive about their own prospects (59pc) than those of their children (39pc). The Greeks are thoroughly pessimistic: only 31pc are optimistic about their future and a mere 25pc think that their kids' life chances are good.

Interestingly, people are more optimistic about themselves than future generations in the more developed western Europe, whereas in eastern Europe, it's usually the reverse. Folks in former Communist countries may not always be happy with their own lot, but at least are hopeful for their young.

Turning to questions relating to work, Irish people are relatively content with their employment and are above the EU average on all counts. Respondents reported a satisfaction rating of 7.4 out of 10 rating for their job, up on the 2011 survey.

The improvement in Ireland's labour market in recent years is very much matched in perceptions. Almost 7pc said it was difficult to make their household's ends meet. That is down from 13.2pc in 2011, even if it remains higher than the pre-crisis period.

An ever bigger change has taken place in relation to job security - 6pc said they thought it was likely that they would lose their jobs in the next six months, down from 18pc in 2011. This measure is now back to 2003 levels, when the Celtic Tiger was in the prime of life.

A sense that opportunities are opening up is also to be seen in the survey: 53pc believed they could find a similarly paid job if they became unemployed compared with just 28pc in 2011.

One area where the picture is more mixed is work-life balance.

In most countries since 2007 there has been an increase in the number of people saying they found it difficult to combine work and household duties.

In Ireland, 56pc reported being too tired from work to do household tasks several times a month, up from 45pc in 2007. On a broader note, most Irish people think there is some tension between the poor and the rich, and between management and workers.

That said, perceived tension between these groupings is less than most European countries, and overall these measures have fallen since the economic crisis.

Finally, for the first time the survey included questions on people's online activities. The Irish are found to be fairly tech savvy.

Almost four out of five respondents said they had bought something online and used online banking, while one in eight said that they had found work through the internet.

Perhaps curiously those on a higher income are more likely to have found work online than those on lower incomes.

These percentages are similar to other northern European countries. The divergence is really between northern and southern Europe. A majority in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and several newer EU members, said they had never bought anything online.

All in all, Ireland performs well for its quality of life.

While there are always improvements to be made, the Eurofound survey shows that Ireland is a good place in which to live.

Sunday Independent

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