You might call it first-world versus third-world problems. Europeans on average are better off financially than their Chinese peers, but they don’t necessarily feel that way.
A new poll for Handelsblatt Global by online polling firm YouGov exposes just how big the gap is between the hopes and expectations of households in the world’s second-largest economy and those of households in the European Union, the world’s largest economic bloc.
While much of the world is worried that the Asian powerhouse economy is slowing down, the survey finds that households in the country are actually pretty happy with their own prospects. Ask Chinese households whether they expect their own financial situation to change in the coming 12 months, a full 50 percent say they expect things to get better. Only 7 percent expect things will get worse.
The same cannot be said for the seven European countries polled including France, Germany or Britain. In fact, the difference is really quite stark (see graphic below): Just 10 percent of the French and 15 percent of Brits see their own financial situation improve.
Even in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, where things have been chugging along relatively well over the last decade since the financial crisis, just 20 percent expect further improvement this year. In Scandinavian countries polled, the highest rating came from Denmark, where 28 percent expect improvement this year.
To be sure, the optimism gap could be partly explained by China’s runaway growth rate. The Asian powerhouse economy, though it may be slowing slightly, is still expected to expand at a rate of more than 6 percent this year. Even Germany by contrast is seen growing only around 2 percent.
More surprising, then, is the Chinese’ view of their current situation. The poll found that about a third were “comfortable financially.” Another 40 percent said they could “comfortably cover the essentials” but don’t have money for luxury goods.
Compare that, again, to France and Germany. Just 13 percent of the French polled said they were comfortable financially, despite the average household having about three times the per-capita income of the average Chinese household. Even in Germany, which has a higher spending power than France, the same percentage consider themselves financially comfortable as those who do so in developing China (see graphic below).
To be sure, the discrepancy may come down partly to what people in wealthy or developing nations consider luxuries. A week-long summer vacation or a car might be considered essential in European countries and a luxury in China, for example.
Still, the difference in economic happiness could also add fodder to explanations for the rise of populism, which has traded on people’s frustrations with globalization and their own financial situation in Europe and the United States. France, which faces a presidential election later this month, comes off as particularly bleak in the YouGov survey.
Political observers have been noting for a while that people in the West tend to feel worse off than they actually are. It’s a development that populists have done well exploiting.
Christopher Cermak is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin, covering politics and economics. To contact the author: [email protected]