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Europeans’ life satisfaction recovers to pre-pandemic levels despite COVID-19 impact, study finds

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Europeans’ life satisfaction recovers to pre-pandemic levels despite COVID-19 impact, study finds

In a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers examine the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on life satisfaction across European countries between 2020 and 2022.

Study: Three years of COVID-19 and life satisfaction in Europe: A macro view. Image Credit: fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Background

Although many studies have examined the social and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, only a few studies have evaluated the changes in life satisfaction related to the pandemic and pandemic-related social restrictions.

The chapters within the World Happiness Report for 2021 and 2022 reported changes in subjective well-being; nonetheless, these observations were conducted annually and on a worldwide scale. Moreover, based on the observed absence of negative changes across 150 countries, the report concluded that subjective well-being the world over was resilient against the impact of the pandemic.

Other studies have examined how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted well-being across European countries using surveys, Twitter posts, and Google searches. To this end, these negative changes, resembling increased risk of depression and anxiety and decline in life satisfaction, were found to be related to the pandemic. Nevertheless, the geographical coverage and temporal scope in among the studies have been limited.

Concerning the study

In the current study, researchers evaluated changes in life satisfaction as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic across all principal European regions between 2020 to late 2022.

The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic was determined using the confirmed variety of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Data on the effectiveness of disease mitigation and COVID-19 containment policies was obtained from the Our World in Data collection.

The response to a particular query from the Standard Eurobarometer Survey, which determined whether participants were very, fairly, not very, or by no means satisfied with the life they led, was used to measure life satisfaction. The survey covered 25 European countries that were representative of the 37 European countries with a population of over a million.

The evaluation comprised geographic comparisons with Europe divided into Eastern and Western blocs. The Eastern bloc comprised the previous Soviet Union and non-former Soviet Union Eastern European regions, whereas the Western bloc comprised Northern, Southern, and Western European regions.

High COVID-19 mortality rates coincided with lower life satisfaction

While all of the European countries experienced a decline in life satisfaction related to the COVID-19 pandemic, by the summer of 2022, life satisfaction measures were returning to the identical level as those reported in the course of the pre-pandemic autumn of 2019.

A rise within the severity of the pandemic, based on the rise in COVID-19-associated mortality, was related to a decline in life satisfaction measures. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which occurred in Europe in 2021, had essentially the most severe impact on life satisfaction.

The variety of deaths related to COVID-19 decreased in the course of the third wave, thereby indicating a discount within the severity of the pandemic. This was reflected within the decline in life satisfaction, which was lower than that observed in the course of the second wave of the pandemic.

This reduction in COVID-19-associated mortality in the course of the third wave was attributed to the event and widespread administration of COVID-19 vaccines. Concurrently, the Omicron variants emerged and, despite expressing increased immune evasion and transmittance, were less fatal than previous viral variants.

With the reduced mortality rates of the third COVID-19 wave, disease mitigation, and containment policies began to ease, with schools and offices reopening, stay-at-home orders being relaxed, and restrictions on domestic and international travel loosened. As well as, the resumption of activities related to on a regular basis life, in addition to retail and recreational activities, can have had an impact on increasing life satisfaction measures.

Conclusions

The present study examined changes in life satisfaction related to the COVID-19 pandemic across European countries between the initial stages of the pandemic in early 2020 and late 2022.

Overall, the findings suggest that the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, based on the variety of COVID-19-related deaths, was negatively correlated with life satisfaction. Moreover, life satisfaction measures were lowest in the course of the second wave of the pandemic, which is when the variety of COVID-19-related deaths was high.

The third wave was related to improved life satisfaction measures, as widespread vaccination efforts and reduced severity of Omicron infections resulted in lower mortality rates. COVID-19 mitigation and containment measures were also relaxed during this time.

Journal reference:

  • Easterlin, R. A., & O’Connor, K. J. (2023). Three years of COVID-19 and life satisfaction in Europe: A macro view. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(19), e2300717120. doi:10.1073/pnas.2300717120

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