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Synthesis 2013 > Countries facing a downward spiral: Spain, Poland and France

Downward spiral: Spain, Poland and France

The situation in Spain, already very worrying in the light of the 2012 survey results, has deteriorated further.

The level of anxiety in Spain is now extreme. Eleven of the 17 risks tested are now major sources of anxiety for more than 75% of Spaniards (compared with the European average of around 50%). There are multiple sources of anxiety and the level of anxiety has increased, whether with regard to the possible death of a family member (87% say this risk is a significant source of worry; +12 points compared with 2012), a serious illness affecting the respondent (86%; +3) or his family (89%; +4), but also events that are generally far more minor sources of worry, such as temporary inability to work of a member of the family (84%; +4 compared with the overall average of 65%).

The fear of unemployment, already particularly strong in Spain in 2012, has increased even more, and with reason: more than a quarter of the active population (27.2% in April 2013) are now unemployed. For 51% of Spaniards (+4), this is one of the three most worrying risks (compared with the European average of 38%), ahead of financial risks (47%; +3) and health risks (42%; -1), which are on average considered more worrying in Europe.

Given the increased anxiety, risk is now massively considered a danger to be avoided (73%; +7). Spain is the country where risk is considered most dangerous, by far. Nonetheless a growing number of Spaniards continue to believe that young people should be taught that in life you must know how to take risks and be prepared to pay the price if you fail’ (73%; +3). To survive, Spaniards appear to believe (even more so than in 2012) that one should try one’s all, even at the risk of losing everything.

Downward spiral: Spain, Poland and France

Poland, caught up by the crisis

For a long time sheltered from the effects of the economic crisis by its dynamic economy, Poland has now begun to feel the effects: economic activity is slowing, unemployment is climbing month after month and financial restrictions are multiplying. (1)

Although anxiety levels in Poland remain below the European average, they have increased in all areas but particularly with regard to unemployment. Losing their job is now a serious worry for 55% of Polish people (+12 points). Economic risks dominate in terms of sources of anxiety: financial risks (52% place these risks among the three most worrying threats; +3 points) and the risk of unemployment (50%; +6, i.e. the strongest increase since 2012).

Polish people’s feeling of vulnerability has risen dangerously as the failing social system cannot cushion the impact of rising unemployment and anxiety. There have been profound changes since 2012. A year ago, Polish people believed that the strong economic momentum partly offset the failings of the social protection system. Currently, 79% of Polish respondents consider that they are at greater risk of running into financial difficulties than they were five years ago (+6 points), 83% believe they are in greater danger of precarity (+12 points) and 79% believe they are at greater risk of losing their job (+14 points). These percentages are far higher than the European averages (by between 17 and 28 points depending on the item).

Consequently, the attitude to risk (relatively uninhibited in 2012) is changing. Risk is now considered a danger by the majority (51%; +9) while a far larger percentage now consider that to succeed one ‘must be careful not to take too many risks’ (50%; +11). Nonetheless, Poland continues to be one of the countries where risk is most positively viewed, particularly with regard to educating the young: 70% (+1) believe they should be taught that in life they must know how to take risks and be prepared to pay the price if they fail.

Downward spiral: Spain, Poland and France

France sinks deeper into pessimism and fear

The already high level of anxiety in France has continued to increase: eleven of the 17 risks tested now worry more than three quarters of the respondents, compared with only three risks out of 17 in 2012 and compared with the European average of two out of 12 in 2013). The subjects of anxiety are numerous and anxiety levels have risen for each of them without exception, whether connected to the present economic conditions or not. Anxiety has spread to everyday life: France is currently the only European country where the risk of attack and theft is considered one of the greatest sources of anxiety (41% of French respondents include these among the three most worrying risk families compared with a European average of 30%). The risk of a road accident is also cited more often than in other countries (38% versus the European average of 34%) and comes second, ahead of unemployment (37%; up by 3 points versus 2012 nonetheless).

The French are haunted by the fear of social regression (60% consider they have regressed socially compared with their parents at the same age, which is the highest score of all the countries surveyed). They feel far more vulnerable than before the crisis and this feeling has grown stronger: 68% (+7 points versus 2012) believe they are now more likely to experience financial difficulties than they were five years ago; 61% (+11) believe they are at greater risk of precarity and poverty, 48% (+7) feel at greater risk of losing their jobs and 33% (+4) think they are more likely to experience family difficulties. Despite the existing social protection system, a relative majority of French people feel less well protected against these risks than they were five years ago (41%; +4).

The French attitude to risk remains ambiguous: increasingly seen as a danger (67%; +5), a large majority of French people feel that risk taking is not positively viewed in their country (71%; +3). The majority nonetheless believe that young people should be taught that in life they must know how to take risks (57%; +4). At the same time, most of them continue to think that to be successful one should be careful not to take too many risks (53%; +2). Two positions that clearly show French people’s contradictory attitude to risk.

Downward spiral: Spain, Poland and France

(1) Puissances d’hier et de demain : L’Etat du Monde 2014’, byBertrand Badie, Dominique Vidal, Philippe Rekacewicz et alia (5 September 2013), p.227

Regards d'experts

guillemet début The gap between the reality and public perception is not a new development. Various surveys carried out in the 1950s and 1960s show that while all the economic indexes were progressing, French people felt that their situation was deteriorating. At the time of the debate sparked by the French Communist Party in the 1950s concerning the “absolute and relative pauperisation” of the working class, a key concept for Maurice Thorez, though nobody cared about Maurice Thorez, but this rang true for many people. They said “he’s right”, whereas they were in the middle of France’s “Glorious 30-year” period.

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guillemet début Poland has come through the economic crisis without suffering its consequences. The period following the end of communism has been extremely prosperous for qualified people, who were able to find jobs quite easily. We are coming to the end of this. We can see that the current generation of children is finding things more difficult compared with previous generations over the past 20 years.

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guillemet début In Spain, the main safety net faced with social risks is probably the family. This goes quite a long way: people are taking their grandparents out of nursing homes because there are families where their 900 euro pension is all they have for all of them to live on. They take them out, look after them at home and live on their grandparents’ 900 euros. But there is a real sense of people helping one another. This is all about anti-individualism.

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guillemet début In all the enlargement countries, take for instance the Baltic countries, people have now taken on a more anxious perception of the situation

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guillemet début The French are very hypocritical! They know that they are very well treated, in other words very well protected. They also know that the system will need to be reformed in order to save it. But they are saying: not right away! Please wait a little longer, Mr Executioner.

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guillemet début Have you heard about the 'Easterlin Paradox'? In 35 years, French GDP adjusted for inflation has increased by 113% and concomitantly the reported satisfaction rate for French people has not budged, at 6.2 out of 10. There are at least two reasons for this. People compare themselves with their neighbours: if your neighbours have progressed and you have kept up with them, your satisfaction rate remains unchanged. And people adapt: if such and such a change has become part of my everyday life, I end up no longer perceiving it. This is known as hedonic adaptation.

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guillemet début The difficulty involved in this analysis, if one wants to understand the feelings expressed, lies in juxtaposing a feeling of vulnerability as measured in this study with the specific economic and political environment. The turnaround in the economic situation – for the worse in Poland or for the better in Spain– apparently weighed on sentiment. In Italy, the restoration of the political situation during the Monti government, then the Letta one, accounts for the fact that the Italians regained some optimism.

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