Exploring the Geography of Subjective Happiness in Europe During the Years of the Economic Crisis: A Multilevel Modelling Approach

Dimitris Ballas*, Ilias Thanis

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article builds on the efforts by geographers and regional scientists aimed at adding a geographical dimension to the analysis and understanding of happiness and well-being. In particular, the article explores the changes in observed subjective wellbeing measures of residents in countries and regions that were mostly hit by the severe economic crisis and austerity measures. To that end, we present a multilevel modelling approach to the analysis of suitable secondary data derived from the European Social Survey (ESS), as well as relevant contextual regional-level data from Eurostat. The article first presents a brief overview of the state of the art in happiness and well-being research, with particular emphasis on the relatively limited but rapidly growing geographical studies, as well as studies by economists regarding the impact of austerity and inequality upon happiness and well-being. We then present key findings from a comprehensive analysis of European Social Survey data combined with austerity related data at the regional level in order to explore the geography of happiness and well-being in Europe amid times of economic gloom and severe austerity measures. The research presented in this article involves analysis of data before, during and after (or in towards the end of) the crisis and it is aimed at identifying geographical as well as individual socio-economic and demographic factors that may be affecting happiness and well-being and their possible interactions. The model outputs suggest that living in one of the ‘crisis countries’ has a negative impact on subjective happiness around the time when the short, medium and long term effects of the recession would be mostly felt, when compared to ‘Northern European’ countries (controlling for an extensive number of important covariates selected on the basis of previous work). In addition, the results suggest that the happiness levels in ‘crisis countries’ were higher than the Baltic countries in 2014 and 2016 and higher than the Central and Eastern European countries in 2016. An additional interesting finding is that at the time when the effects of the crisis would be mostly felt, populations born in the country where the ESS took place are on average (after controlling for all other covariates) less happy than those born abroad in one of the years (2014) after the breakout of the crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105–137
Number of pages33
JournalSocial Indicators Research
Early online date2-Feb-2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov-2022


  • Economic crisis
  • Happiness
  • Inequality
  • Well-being

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