Life satisfaction in Estonia
Life satisfaction is one of the most important indicators of individual quality of life and subjective well-being. It represents a person’s overall assessment of the different aspects of their life. There are various indicators for assessing subjective well-being, most of which express either a ratio of positive and negative emotions, general life satisfaction, or satisfaction related to specific areas of life (Brulé and Maggino 2021; Sirgy 2020). Life satisfaction is primarily the outcome of an evaluation of aspirations and achievements (Haller and Hadler 2006) and is related to all significant indicators of the quality of life in society, including health, economic situation, democracy, social relations, work, trust, etc. (Graham 2009).
Previous studies in Estonia have shown that the transition period that began with the restoration of national independence in 1991 led to a decline in life satisfaction (Ainsaar 2011). Only a third of the population was satisfied with their lives in 1996,
and the satisfaction of different age and education groups was increasingly stratified (Easterlin 2009; Ainsaar 2011). The year 1996 marked the beginning of a stabilisation period that followed the era of rapid transition. The restructuring of the economy brought along a drop in employment and a rise in unemployment. As wealth increased, life satisfaction began to grow. By 2002–2003, life satisfaction reached the 1990 level. The period from 2002 to 2008 saw rapid economic growth and an increased life satisfaction. However, the economy was not the only factor influencing life satisfaction, as this was also dependent on gender, age, health, trust and social support (Ainsaar 2006; Ainsaar 2008b). he increase in life satisfaction continued until 2006–2008. Unsurprisingly, the economic crisis that followed in 2009 led to a decrease in life satisfaction, a decline in income and cuts in social spending. Unemployment rates rose back to 2001 levels.
Previous studies have shown that, in addition to economic situation, factors that boost life satisfaction are good health and trust in people (Suldo and Huebner 2006; Ainsaar 2008b). conomic situation affects satisfaction both directly and through various coping mechanisms and changes in people’s competitiveness. Looking back at the research conducted thus far, Graham (2009) concludes that the more economically developed the country, the more complex the relationship between income and life satisfaction
After reaching a certain level of economic wellbeing, people possess more freedom to choose between different preferences. Some may want to exchange the security of a higher income for other non-material benefits.
The phenomenon of economic wealth is believed to lie in the fact that greater wealth gives people the freedom to use their resources, while having a lower income forces people to focus on meeting basic needs (Drakopoulos 2008). Drakopoulos notes, however, that taking care of basic needs has a stronger positive effect on happiness than addressing higher-level needs.
This article provides an overview of the changes in Estonians’ life satisfaction over time and compares these with those of other countries and between different sociodemographic groups. In particular, we will be looking at the period between 2008 and 2021, which covers both the rapid economic growth that followed the 2009 crisis and the COVID-19 crisis of 2020–2021. In addition to presenting descriptive time series, the article analyses how life satisfaction interacts with self-rated health, income, social status and trust in other people. The last part of the article explores the relationship between life satisfaction and health, including mental health, looking specifically at the period that started with the spread of the coronavirus in 2020.
We rely on data from the 2004–2021 European Social Survey (ESS) and the 2021–2022 Estonian National Mental Health Study. To measure life satisfaction, we use the question about general subjective well-being: ‘All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole nowadays? Please answer on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means extremely dissatisfied and 10 means extremely satisfied.’ Our graphics display the share of respondents whose answers ranged from 6 to 10 (i.e. they were at least somewhat satisfied with life).
Between 2008 and 2018, the life satisfaction of Europeans generally increased. In Estonia, this increase was even faster than in other countries (Figure 1.1.1.). In 2008, Estonia was among the countries with a below-average level of life satisfaction. Ten years later, while Estonia has still not caught up with the Nordic countries, its average satisfaction matches that of Poland, Ireland and the United Kingdom, to name a few. Throughout the Estonian population,
The studies conducted in Estonia before and during the COVID-19 pandemic enable us to take a more detailed look at how life satisfaction changed during this period (Figure 1.1.2). We used data from the 2019 Estonian Health Interview Survey and the 2021 and 2022 Estonian National Mental Health Study.
The samples of these studies and their questions about life satisfaction differ from those of the ESS and thus are not comparable to them. Nevertheless, these data enabled us to conduct a more targeted temporal analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic era. The analysis revealed that the share of respondents who are at least somewhat satisfied with life has statistically significantly decreased between 2019 and February 2021 (90% in 2019, 76% in early 2021, 79% in the spring/summer of 2021, 72% in early 2022). The decrease in life satisfaction between 2019 and 2021 was likely brought on by the COVID-19 crisis and related socioeconomic problems. The differences were smaller but also statistically significant between the three waves of the Estonian National Mental Health Study conducted in 2021 and 2022. In May and June 2021, the share of people satisfied with life was slightly higher than in the first winter months of 2021 and 2022, when the coronavirus caused greater problems and society was under more pressure (Figure 1.1.2).
## ## Attaching package: 'dplyr'
## The following objects are masked from 'package:stats': ## ## filter, lag
## The following objects are masked from 'package:base': ## ## intersect, setdiff, setequal, union
library(tidyr) #faili sisselugemine ja korrigeerimine J112=read.csv("PT1-T1.1-J1.1.2.csv",header=TRUE, encoding ="UTF-8") J112=na.omit(J112) labels=sub("X","",names(J112))[2:5] J112[4,1]="Extremely dissatisfied\n(Not at all satisfied)" #andmestiku formaadi muutmine ja uued veerunimed J112=pivot_longer(J112,col=c("ETeU.2019","X01.02.2021","X05.06.2021","X01.02.2022")) names(J112)=c("Vastus","Aeg","Osakaal") #joonis ggplot(J112)+ geom_col(aes(x=Aeg,y=Osakaal,fill=Vastus))+ scale_fill_manual(values=c("#FF3600","#982F1A","#6666CC","#1E272E"))+ #Et anda ette terve vektor värve, on vaja lisada eraldi funktsioon. Siin on vaja sätida "täidet" (filli), seega scale_fill_manual theme_minimal()+ ylab("%") + xlab("")+ scale_x_discrete(labels=labels,limits=c("ETeU.2019","X01.02.2021","X05.06.2021","X01.02.2022"))+ scale_y_continuous(breaks=c(20,40,60,80,100))+ theme(legend.spacing.y = unit(2, 'cm'))+ guides(fill = guide_legend(byrow = TRUE))+ theme(text = element_text(color="#668080"),axis.text=element_text(color="#668080"))+ theme(legend.title=element_blank())+ theme(plot.margin=unit(c(0.5,4.5,0.5,0.5),"cm"))+ theme(legend.position = "bottom")
In the following, we will examine the relationship between life satisfaction and age, employment status, income and health. There have been no systematic studies on differences in life satisfaction in Estonia based on gender. However, empirical data show that in some years, women and men report the same level of life satisfaction, while in other years, women are more satisfied with life than men. As we could find no clear pattern in this category, we concluded that this topic requires separate, in-depth treatment.
One of the models often cited in the literature is the U-shaped curve in satisfaction – the idea that younger and older people are more satisfied with life than middle-aged people (Easterlin 2006). Realo and Dobewall (2011) Realo and Dobewall (2011) have also found signs of U-shaped life satisfaction in Estonia, attributing it to both contemporary and generational effects. However, the long time series shows that while the life satisfaction of older people in Estonia has grown at the same pace as that of working-age people, it is not as high (Figure 1.1.3). It is only during the few years of crises in the early 1990s and again in 2008 and 2009 that the life satisfaction of older people is relatively close to that of working-age people. Although life satisfaction increased in both older people and working-age people between 2018 and 2021, the gap between the two age groups did not change.