The brochure entitled "Better or Worse?" presents the results of nationwide living conditions surveys conducted simultaneously in the three Baltic states in the autumns of 1994 and 1999. The surveys were sponsored by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry as part of the Norbalt project, and carried out by the Norwegian Institute for Applied Social Science (FAFO), and the Estonian Statistical Office.
"We appreciate positive Estonian-Norwegian partnership and hope the survey will be useful for other studies," said Per Kristian Pedersen, the ambassador of Norway.
Hannes Danilov, the chancellor of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that conducting this survey was especially important for such a young state as Estonia. An unpleasant surprise for him, though, was that people often mistrust officials, the parliament and the government.
According to Rein Veetousme, director general of the Estonian Statistical Office, the rapid changes in the economic situation prompted the 1999 survey.
"As an analogous survey was carried out also in Latvia and Lithuania, it offers an opportunity to compare socio-economic phenomena in the three Baltic states as they head for the EU," he said.
The polls covered employment and working conditions, economic resources, health, housing, education and crime. In both more than 10,000 households were interviewed.
Baltic households, according to the report, mostly consider themselves neither rich nor poor, and very few say they are well off. In Latvia and Lithuania about 46 percent of households say they are on the verge of poverty or poor, while in Estonia this is the case in 33 percent of households.
Representatives of the largest ethnic minorities consider themselves the poorest in all countries, with the exception of Poles in Lithuania.
Estonian households are more optimistic than their neighbors when comparing their present economic situation to that of five years ago. In Estonia, 39 percent said their financial situation has gotten worse, while in Latvia and Lithuania the corresponding figure was 49 percent and 69 percent respectively.
Modern technology is actively used by highly educated and affluent households in all the three countries' capital cities, but Estonians are currently in the lead. Access to the Internet is 5 times more common in Estonia than in either Latvia and Lithuania.
Mart Einasto, sociologist and editor of the baseline report on living conditions in Estonia, commented on education trends: "Education has a higher importance today in comparison with year 1994 and earlier, Soviet times."