Mapping Europe: The Social Atlas of Europe

‘United in diversity’ is one of the cornerstone ideas of European integration, but just how diverse Europe really is? And what are those common social, political, economic aspects that unite Europeans? The authors of the Social Atlas of Europe seek to answer just these questions through a beautiful and compelling collection of maps of Europe. Perceptions of Europe are inevitably shaped by personal beliefs and experiences, and what the Social Atlas of Europe hopes to do is debunk myths and preconceptions by putting forward to its readers a set of over 160 innovative thematic maps covering a wealth of topics from identity and culture, education and politics to health, employment, economics and environment. 

A fresh way of looking at Europe


Population Cartogram of Europe 

Unlike the traditional maps, the Social Atlas of Europe uses state-of-the-art Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and new human cartography techniques to help visualise Europe in a fluid way that goes beyond traditional territorial boundaries. These maps differ from traditional maps because the area is made proportional to particular social statistics rather than reflecting the land area. For the purposes of the atlas, ‘Europe’ is not confined to the 28 member states of the European Union, but it also includes those countries on the continent who have shown a commitment to a common European future by their close association with the EU. By moving away from a fragmented representation of Europe along national lines, the book offers a vision of Europe as a single entity. By this approach, the authors of the atlas hope to prompt readers to look at Europe as a single large group of people sharing a common identity rather than a union of national member states. Whether you agree with this view or not, the cartograms are highly informative and reveal a great deal about Europe.

Visions of Europe

1. Mobility 


Population born outside the country of residence,      
Increase 2000 – 10                                                                                                                            

Free movement sits at the heart of European integration. In 2010 there were 52,225,829 people in Europe born in a country that is different from the one where they are currently living, which is 8.5% of the total population of all European states that are included in the atlas. Unsurprisingly, in absolute terms the largest numbers are in Germany, followed by France and the United Kingdom, while the top five countries that have experienced a decline in the number of people born abroad but living in the country are Serbia, followed by Latvia, Lithuania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia. Spain experienced the greatest relative increase over the past decade. As rates of mobility tend to increase over time, in general there will be higher and higher proportions of people born in one state and living in another, but as the maps above show, people tend to move from Eastern to Western Europe. A similar trend can also be observed in terms of student mobility. In 2010, of the total of 670,000 European students enrolled in higher education at a university in a different country from their own, over a quarter of these students were in the United Kingdom, with Germany, Austria and France also hosting large numbers of foreign students.

2. Life expectancy & health

Life expectancy.jpg

Male Life Expectancy at Birth, 2007                                                                                                                                                                                                  

On average, the EU has one of the highest rates of life expectancy in the world. In 2007, life expectancy at birth was 79 years in the EU compared to an average global expectancy of only 67.

However, as the Hennig Projection Gridded Population Cartogram above shows men live longer in Western Europe than those in the East, which can be attributed to a number of factors including the migration of men who tend to do better in life further West. A similar pattern emerges in terms of health, with cardiovascular disease mortality rates, for example, generally higher in Eastern Europe. As the authors of the atlas explain, mortality rates often reflect conditions of the past, and despite the fact that poverty rates have been rising in much of Eastern Europe, the political, social and economic instability that ensued after 1989 continue to have an impact on overall population health outcomes.

3. Unemployment 


Numbers of Unemployed People:                                                                                
Increase between 2007 – 2012                                                                                  

Tackling unemployment is currently one of EU’s greatest challenges, and as the cartograms above reveal, there have been clear winners and losers in terms of the rise in unemployment in Europe since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. The largest absolute increase in unemployment is observed in Spain, where there were nearly 4 million more unemployed people in 2012 than in 2007. Italy, the United Kingdom, Greece and France also experienced very large absolute increases. In contrast, Germany recorded one of its lowest rates of unemployment for two decades during this period. In fact, Germany recorded a decline in unemployment, with some 1,285,000 fewer unemployed people in 2012 than in 2007.



Poverty Head Count at $2 a Day (PPP), 2004 – 2008                              

Perhaps nowhere else is the gap between East and West more evident than in the cartogram mapping poverty head count at $2 a day. There are an estimated 4 million people in Europe living on the equivalent of less than US$2 a day at 2005 international prices, when prices are made comparable using established purchasing power parity (PPP) ratios. Approximately 3.5 million of these 4 million lowest-paid people live in Turkey. Romania has the second highest absolute number of the poorest of the poor, followed by FYR Macedonia, Albania and then Poland. However other maps featured in the atlas show a more nuanced picture of poverty in Europe. The UN Human Poverty Indicators as of 2007 show high levels of human poverty across wide regions in Southern Europe, but patches of acute poverty are also to be found in countries such as France, Ireland and the United Kingdom. A similar picture emerges when using at the GINI Index of Income Inequality, which reveals the United Kingdom as the most unequal country among the richer European countries, while Norway and Iceland are the most equal countries in terms of income.

Gaps and Bridges

The Social Atlas of Europe is a must-read for those seeking to understand Europe, to look at European countries in all their complexity and diversity, and to make sense of what unites and divides Europeans. The atlas reveals a number of inequalities between Western and Eastern Europe, between the South and the North of the continent, but it also clearly shows how at a regional level citizens from different countries share a lot of the same social and economic issues.  It is often the case that the most significant differences are not those along national borders, but between urban and rural areas or between prosperous and deprived regions. As such, the atlas offers an opportunity for reflection on how to bridge these gaps and how to build on the similarities many European regions share to create better policies and foster a greater sense of unity and shared identity. Ultimately the book offers a fascinating window into Europe, a snapshot of Europe as more than just a collection of member states.  

Above all, the atlas faces the reader with some uncomfortable truths about the economic and social disparities within Europe and raises questions about the effectiveness of social cohesion policies, and the winners and losers of European integration. No meaningful debate about Europe can take place without a clear image of who we are and where we stand, and the Social Atlas of Europe provides this. 


 The Social Atlas of Europe by Dimitris Ballas, Danny Dorling and Benjamin Hennig was published on 25th June 2014 by Policy Press and can be purchased online here:


Edited by Laura Davidel
Maps: The Social Atlas of Europe by Dimitris Ballas, Danny Dorling and Benjamin Hennig