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New research on European attitudes presented at City University London

Centre for Comparitive Social Surveys hosts event at City University London.
by Hollie Jenkins
  • In spite of recession, no increase in number of Europeans finding it difficult to live off their household income
  • UK rated 10th for well being, ahead of Germany, France and Spain (Denmark at number 1)
  • Age discrimination seen as more serious within UK than other European countries and more likely to be experienced than discrimination on the basis of sex or ethnicity
  • Citizens of Finland and Switzerland speak the most positively about their police force, but UK citizens more positive about police than those in France and Belgium

New insights into attitudes towards aging and ageism, trust and justice systems, wellbeing and work and the recession across Europe were revealed at an ESRC Festive of Social Science 2011 event hosted at City University London on Monday 31st October 2010.

Drawing on data from the European Social Survey (ESS), a biennial multi-country survey covering more than 30 nations and jointly funded by the European Commission, the European Science Foundation and academic funding bodies in each participating country, the event focused on comparing the attitudes and experiences of UK respondents with its European neighbours.

Hosted by the lead co-ordinator of the survey, the Centre for Comparative Social Surveys at City University London, the event was chaired by Mark Easton, Home Editor at the BBC, and included presentations from Professor Dominic Abrams, University of Kent (Ageing and Ageism), Professor Felicia Huppert, University of Cambridge (Well-being), Dr Jonathan Jackson, LSE, and Professor Mike Hough, Birkbeck, University of London (Trust and Justice Systems) and Dr Martina Dieckhoff, WZB (Work-family life).

Insights presented included:

Ageing and Ageism

  • Across all countries surveyed, 44% of the respondents, and a much higher proportion in the UK (64%), regard age discrimination to be a serious or very serious issue.
  • In all countries, more respondents reported experiencing age discrimination than sex or ethnic discrimination. For example, 35%, 25% and 17% of all respondents reported unfair treatment based on age, sex, and ethnicity respectively.
  • The problem is most acute in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia and least acute in Portugal, Cyprus and Denmark.
  • In all countries, and especially the UK, age discrimination was experienced more often as being shown a lack of respect or being ignored (42% experienced this in the UK) than as direct insults or abuse (23% in the UK).
  • Half of respondents across the European Social Survey and in the UK reported being very or extremely worried that employers will show preference to those in their 20s, and such concerns are most common in Finland (68%) and least common in Norway (29%).

Trust and Justice Systems

  • Over 70% of the UK public think that the police do a good job
  • However, several European countries in the sample show higher ratings, including Switzerland, Finland, Germany and the four Nordic countries.
  • Ratings tend to be lower in Eastern European countries, but also in Belgium, the Netherlands and Portugal.


  • Using a multi-component definition of wellbeing, Denmark was identified as the country with the best wellbeing (40%), followed by Switzerland (30%).
  • The UK rated number 10 in a ranked list of country-by-country well-being, ahead of Germany, France and Spain.
  • The countries with the lowest reported levels of well-being included Slovakia, the Russian Federation and Portugal.

The recession in Europe

  • A sizable proportion of respondents in all countries said they had had to manage on a lower income at some time between 2007 - 2010; this ranged from around 40% of those in Denmark to over 70% of those in the UK, Finland and France, and over 80% in Estonia.
  • Between 31% and 73% of respondents said they had cut back on holidays or new household equipment at some time between 2007 and 2010 including as many of 64% of those in the UK.
  • A substantial portion of all respondents, including six in ten of UK and French respondents, said they had to draw on their savings or get into debt to cover everyday living expenses.
  • However, when comparing 2004 data with 2010, the surprising suggestion is that there has been no increase in people finding it "difficult" or "very difficult" to live on their present household income. 

Professor Roger Jowell, Director of the Centre for Comparative Social Surveys at City University London, said that the event was important in highlighting some of the trends that are occurring across Europe:

"The European Social Survey is designed to offer everyone free and immediate access to data that can be used for a range of purposes, including academic research and analysis. While it is always interesting to look at the results, given the recent economic recession across Europe, as well as events like the recent austerity measure protests and against the backdrop of an aging population, it was particularly interesting to take an in-depth look at this year's results and note some of the surprises."

The latest round of data from the ESS has just been released and can be found online at:

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