Europe’s rural areas are threatened by a vicious cycle: as populations decrease, the well-being of those who stay back also declines, which further fuels outmigration. A shrinking rural population is a recipe for myriads of rural development issues and ultimately leads to severe degeneration in the multifunctionality of rural areas. Resolute and well-guided efforts from concerned parties are key in cushioning rural Europe from such a displeasing trend. To this end, it is prudent to pay unwavering attention to the liveability and viability of rural areas. This Leibniz Best Minds project thus seeks to contribute to a better understanding of this downward spiral in which some rural areas find themselves by investigating quality of life in rural Europe.
In particular, we aim at decoding the link between quality of life and (im)mobility among rural populations in East Germany and four countries in Southeast Europe, Albania, Kosovo, Moldova, and Romania. Unlike most of the contemporary research, we choose to idiosyncratically focus more on understanding the reasons as to why some people stay put even amidst the numerous push factors that cause them to leave.
With rural Europe as our centre of attention, we are working to further contribute to the transition from a purely economic view of quality of life to one that is more holistic and comprehensive. The appending of a new lens, the concept of place attachment as a crucial but so far neglected concept in this context, makes our work distinctive. We are employing an innovative measurement of well-being by further developing and adapting a pioneering Multidimensional Well-being Index (MWI) that was recently developed by the University of Oxford based on Amartya Sen’s capability approach.
Theoretically anchored in utility theory, this project relies on a mixed-methods approach to capture and triangulate the complex and multidimensional drivers of well-being. It features a qualitative analysis of place attachment within the realm of quality of life dimensions, and a quantitative investigation of the relationship between the MWI and (im)mobility. Our empirical focus is on regions affected by depopulation in rural Germany and Southeast Europe. For Germany, a quantitative analysis exploits the longitudinal nature of individual-level data from the German Socioeconomic Panel Study (SOEP) using regression models. A household survey in the four Southeast European countries will deliver data that exactly matches the project’s specific data needs. Individual preferences for the various MWI dimensions and their trade-offs will be revealed using choice experiments. The relationship between well-being, place attachment, and (im)mobility will then be explored using structural equation modelling.
Our objectives are threefold. Firstly, we are going to develop a Multidimensional Well-being Index for rural East Germany and four countries in Southeast Europe (Albania, Kosovo, Moldova, and Romania) and assess the underlying factors for the different levels of quality of life at the individual and regional levels. Secondly, we are assessing the specific role of place attachment as a potential dimension within the concept of quality of life. Finally, we are working to unravel the link between the different dimensions of quality of life and rural development, regional depopulation trends, and individual staying decisions of rural residents in East Germany and Southeast Europe.
This project is implemented by a Leibniz Junior Research Group based at IAMO’s Department of Agricultural Policy and is led by Antje Jantsch. It further develops and builds upon her outstanding academic achievements in the thematic areas of quality of life, subjective well-being, and happiness research.