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The LiTS survey: A decade of measuring transition

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, post-communist countries have experienced an overhaul of their economic and political institutions. This column highlights five core messages from the most recent Life in Transition Survey, which is conducted periodically by the EBRD and the World Bank to monitor how the transition process impacts people’s perceptions and attitudes. Understanding the process is important as personal experiences largely determine whether people (continue to) support the economic and political institutions that underpin their society.

The Life in Transition Survey (LiTS) is a comprehensive household survey that collects information on the socioeconomic status of respondents and on their attitudes and perceptions concerning a variety of economic, political and social topics. After rounds in 2006 and 2010, LiTS III was carried out between the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 across 31 transition countries, the Czech Republic and two western European comparator countries (Germany and Italy).1 Figure 1 shows the countries in each of the three rounds of the survey.2

Figure 1 Geographical coverage of the Life in Transition Survey in 2006, 2010 and 2016

LiTS III was the largest survey round implemented to date: 51,000 households were visited in 2,550 urban and rural localities. A female and a male respondent were interviewed in each household composed of at least two adult members of opposite gender. The survey administered in Greece also comprised a section with questions on how the crisis affected household consumption and voting behaviour. The latest LiTS data reveal a number of striking developments.

  • The ‘happiness gap’ has closed

The so-called transition happiness gap has finally closed. Today, individuals living in post-communist countries report levels of life satisfaction similar to those of equally rich counterparts in comparator countries (Adsera et al. 2017). People in most transition countries are now also more optimistic about the future than their counterparts in western Europe. The reasons for this convergence in life satisfaction are twofold. First, life satisfaction – which had declined across the entire transition region following the 2008-09 financial crisis – has more recently recovered. Second, life satisfaction has declined somewhat in the Western comparator countries (Guriev and Melnikov 2017).

  • Relatively strong support for democracy but less enthusiasm for the market economy

Fifty per cent of the residents of transition countries believe that democracy is preferable to any other form of political system, in contrast to 93% of Germans and 63% of Italians. At the same time, almost 37% of the population in the region think that a market economy is preferable to any other form of economic system, as opposed to 85% of Germans and 35% of Italians (Figure 2).

Support for democracy and the market economy declined between 2006 and 2010 in most transition countries. This decline was more pronounced in those countries that had been hit harder by the economic crisis (Grosjean et al. 2011, De Haas et al. 2016). Today, however, support for the market economy is again on par or above the corresponding 2010 levels in all regions but Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Russia.

Figure 2 Support for democracy (top panel) and the market economy (bottom panel) in the transition region and comparator countries in 2006, 2010 and 2016

Source: LiTS (2006), LiTS II (2010), LiTS III (2016) and author’s calculations.
Notes: The charts show the percentage of respondents who believe that “Democracy is preferable to any other form of political system” (top panel) and that “A market economy is preferable to any other form of economic system” (bottom panel). Comparator countries include Germany and Italy. Regional averages are population-weighted.

  • Perceived corruption has been declining

The fraction of people who believe that unofficial payments or gifts are usually or always necessary when using public services is steadily declining across the transition region. Overall, the LiTS III data show that not only people’s own perceptions of corruption but also actual experiences of bribery have decreased since 2006, even though both are still higher than in comparator countries. In most countries, confidence in public-sector authorities is low and public officials are still more often perceived as being corrupt than is typically the case in the western European comparator countries. The perceived level of corruption remains highest in the health care sector.

  • Attitudes towards immigrants are hardening

Across the region, the percentage of people who think that immigrants make a valuable contribution to the economy is lower than the percentage of those who believe immigrants pose a burden to the national social-protection system. In addition, the percentage of people who believe immigrants represent a burden has increased steeply since 2010 in all regions but Central Asia and Turkey. Attitudes towards immigrants appear to be more positive only in those countries that have historically seen a non-negligible fraction of their population live or work abroad, such as Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Kosovo, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

  • Traditional gender roles remain deeply entrenched

Despite men and women having similar levels of education, the new round of LiTS data uncovers persisting differences in labour force participation and access to entrepreneurial opportunities for male and female respondents. When it comes to paid work, women are less likely to work full-time, are less engaged in the workforce than men, and earn less than men working a similar job. In terms of unpaid work, women bear a disproportionate share of the housework and caring for their families.

Figure 3 Perceptions of gender roles in the transition region and comparator countries in 2016

Source: LiTS III (2016) and author’s calculations.
Notes: The charts show the percentage of respondents who “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statements: “Men make better political leaders than women do” (top panel); “A woman should do most of the household chores even if the husband is not working” (middle panel); and “It is better for everyone involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children” (bottom panel). Comparator countries include Germany and Italy. Regional averages are population-weighted.

This unequal division of tasks at least partially stems from prevailing gender norms. More than half of the population in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Russia believe that men are better political leaders than women and think that a woman should do most of the household chores even if the man is not working. In addition, in all regions but Central Europe, the Baltic states, Czech Republic and Turkey more than 50% of the people think that a traditional family set-up, where the man works and the woman takes care of the home and the children, is more appropriate than any other arrangement.

This column has only scratched the surface of the findings from the third round of the Life in Transition Survey. As with the previous survey rounds, more research will be conducted on the basis of the LiTS III data. This should yield further insights into the impact of reforms and financial crises on people’s beliefs and attitudes. All LiTS data are freely and publically available for researchers to use at http://bit.ly/2o8YOvc.


Adsera, A F Dalla Pozza, S Guriev, L Kleine-Rueschkamp and E Nikolova (2017), “The Impact of Transition on Well-being”, EBRD Working Paper, forthcoming.

De Haas, R, M Djourelova and E Nikolova (2016), “The Great Recession and Social Preferences: Evidence from Ukraine”, Journal of Comparative Economics 44: 92-107.

Grosjean, P, F Ricka and C Senik (2011), “The Intangible Transition: Support for Markets and Democracy after the Crisis”, in Transition Report 2011, London: European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, pp. 60-75.

Guriev, S and N Melnikov (2017), “The Happiness Transition”, EBRD Working Paper, forthcoming.


[1] The survey was implemented by the EBRD and benefited from the joint collaboration with and the generous contribution of Transparency International and the World Bank.

[2] The “transition region”, as defined in this column, comprises Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan); Central Europe and the Baltic states (Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovak Republic and Slovenia); Eastern Europe and the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine); Russia; South-eastern Europe (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia); and Turkey.

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