Regional Quality of Life in the EU: Comprehending the European space beyond GDP through the capability approach

Tomas Hanell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The objective of this dissertation is to demonstrate that the indicators currently in use for evaluating the progress of European strategies and determining structural assistance are not – despite persistent rhetoric – able to portray levels of quality of life (QoL) in the regions of the European Union (EU). The dissertation departs from the following perspectives:- Irrespective of whether we like it or not, quantitative information constitutes the primary engine for societal decision-making.- Wanting to affect something consequently necessitates that it actually can be measured.- EU level spatial policies and strategies explicitly claim to maintain or increase quality of life; therefore,- it is a commendable objective to try to assess the degree to which they in practice are capable of addressing the issue in the first instance. The literature review highlights the practical impact that a particular theoretic approach exerts on the outcome of a measurement and demonstrates the detrimentally high frequency of atheoretical ad hoc measurement of QoL. The study builds on the capability approach. By means of a PCA-based weighting procedure, 64 subjective and objective substance variables are aggregated into an overall metric of regional quality of life: the Regional Quality of Life Index (RQLI). Data are available for 195 regions covering all 28 EU Member States. The RQLI is evaluated in terms of its validity and reliability and is assessed as meeting both criteria. Using multiple linear regression, the analysis demonstrates consistently that regional indicators currently in use for evaluating the progress of the Europe 2020 Strategy and for determining Structural Fund eligibility are not able to shed light on regional levels of quality of life in the EU. Spatial patterns of QoL emerging from the analysis are highly incongruent with what has hitherto been observed by means of traditional metrics. Furthermore, urbanisation and agglomeration economies are demonstrably assessed to have little to do with the quality of life of citizens. It is argued that an important reason for this discrepancy is that depictions of the EU territory have hitherto been based on a limited interpretation of societal and human development. This has advocated a way of comprehending the society in terms of monetary units alone. As measurement instruments in general have a tendency to become discursive elements in themselves, this tendency has far reaching implications. Since policy interventions claim to maintain or increase the QoL of the citizens, the dissertation finally discusses the implications of conducting policy without an awareness of the factual levels of QoL. It introduces an analytic taxonomy of policy "interventions with a blindfold".
Translated title of the contributionRegional Quality of Life in the EU - Comprehending the European space beyond GDP through the capability approach
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Mäntysalo, Raine, Supervising Professor
  • Bengs, Christer, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8212-7
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8213-4
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • quality of life
  • well-being
  • capability approach
  • composite index
  • regional policy
  • European Union
  • EU2020
  • structural funds


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