Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Are Europeans sadder?

Proper cheer-up from Chris Richardson and the boys at Access Economics on the future of the Australian economy. It pays to remember that they have a very good eye for the dramatic headline. Who could forget (well, actually, most have) their dramatic disaster call during the GFC when the real numbers were going in the opposite direction?

This doesn't mean that Australia doesn't have a budget problem. It does. However, it pays to take a calm approach to the issue.

On a different matter, Winton Bates has had some interesting posts lately. Why are old Americans more satisfied with their lives than are old Europeans? looks at happiness measures by age and country. The post title is a little misleading, I think. It should read why are older Europeans less happy than those in certain countries. However, Winton chose his title because of the weight accorded to population rankings.

One of the things that appears to be important for older people is social support, the backing that comes from family and friends. However, it's not clear to me that this is different between Europe and other places, I know of no evidence that the level of social support is different in Europe. If I'm right, we are dealing with apparent perception differences.

Europe, of course, is a very varied place so one has to be careful about averages and generalisations. Those in the older group, 60+ and especially 70+ have experienced enormous social upheavals. The Second World War, communism, the break-up of the communist system, troubles in the Balkans and so it goes on. In a way, Europe as a whole is a continent of refugees. Whole families were destroyed, connections to people, place and history lost.

Perhaps it's not surprising that older Europeans are less happy. I haven't looked at the demography, but I would suspect that for many the family support networks are weaker, more people are alone because so many of the extended connections died. Then, too, as we grow older we focus on the past, refreshing older memories of people and places lost. That can become a sad process.

We know this in Australia now, we see it around us although we don't always recognise it. I went for a walk on Sunday morning. It was quite early. There was an old Greek lady. Alone, stooped, dressed all in black, she was using a walking stick to hobble up to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. From her age, she must have come to Australia as a young woman early in the Australian mass migration process after the War. I said good morning, Startled, she gave me a shy smile and said good morning in heavily accented English..

Things are always more complicated than the statistics allow.


Winton Bates said...

Jim, I usually agree with you when you say the picture is complicated. Where we differ, I think, is that it often seems to me that the main drivers of the big picuture are fairly obvious.
This time all I can say that we should probably be looking for factors that might cause people to feel that they do not have relatives and friends to support them in times of need.

Winton Bates said...

For example, see the Q&A discussion on altruism:

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Winton. It is true, Winton, that I tend to think that the big drivers are not always obvious. Quite a lot of my writing is actually devoted to attacking that view!

In the European case, I had two points in mind. The first was demography. There are just a lot more older single or widowed women in Europe than in any of the comparative countries. The second was history and and the sense of loss that grows, I think, as you grow older. And so many Europeans have actually been cut of from their roots.

A little while back, I was trying to think how to describe this in an Australian v European context. In simple terms, Australia lives in the sunlight, Europe in the shade, torn by its complicated past.

Obviously there are shadings across Europe, but I think that its still true. That, of itself, would explain the pattern you refer to.

The discussion on Q&A was interesting in parts, I hadn't seen it but followed your link through. I think that the altruism discussion raised some interesting points.