Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 18, Issue 6, pp 1593–1623 | Cite as

Does Joining the EU Make You Happy? Evidence from Bulgaria and Romania

  • Milena NikolovaEmail author
  • Boris Nikolaev
Research Paper


We examine the effect of joining the European Union on individual life satisfaction in Bulgaria and Romania in the context of the 2007 EU enlargement. Although EU membership is among the most important events in Bulgaria and Romania’s modern histories, there is no evidence on how it affected the subjective well-being of ordinary people in the two countries. Using a difference-in-differences strategy and Eurobarometer data, we provide some of the first evidence that joining the EU increased average life satisfaction in Bulgaria and had a positive but statistically insignificant effect in Romania. One explanation is that after both countries joined in 2007, trust towards the EU only increased in Bulgaria but not in Romania. Furthermore, Romania’s political war of 2007 may have mired the country’s positive life satisfaction experiences related to EU membership. We also show that the younger, the employed and those with a high-school education were the winners from EU integration. Our results are robust to two placebo tests, in which we use two fake entry dates to the EU, as well as an estimation using bootstrapped standard errors. Our findings have implications for EU integration policy and future enlargements.


Subjective well-being Happiness Transition economies Difference-in-differences European Union EU enlargement 

JEL Classification

I31 I39 P20 



The authors would like to thank Carol Graham, Martijn Hendriks, Monica Roman, Madiha Afzal, Peter Murrell, Cliff Gaddy, and Dave Crocker, as well as IZA Reading Group participants for helpful comments and suggestions. The authors also acknowledge literature review help from Margard Ody, research assistance from Sarah Stahlmann, and copy-editing support from Richard Forsythe. A preliminary version of the paper, entitled “Does Joining the EU Make You Happy? Evidence from Central and Eastern Europe,” appeared as a chapter in Milena Nikolova’s dissertation written at the University of Maryland, College Park.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)BonnGermany
  2. 2.The Brookings InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of EntrepreneurshipBaylor UniversityWacoUSA

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