This is how COVID-19 hit household expenditure in Europe

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • New data reveals that COVID-19 reduced Europe’s household spending by 8% in 2020.
  • Nations with the severest lockdowns saw the most dramatic drop in household consumption, says Eurostat.
  • Elsewhere, consumer spending in China fell by 17% in 2020.
  • While the US saw a drop of almost 4% in the same period.

The full extent of the impact of COVID-19 on European consumer habits in 2020 is becoming clear as nations struggle to recover in the face of new strains of the virus.

Lockdowns, social distancing and restrictions on non-essential business activity reduced household consumption by 8% across the continent – an impact not seen since the 2008 financial crisis – according to new data from Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical service.

Reduced spending in unexpected areas

Most areas of European household spending were impacted, though restaurants and hotels (-37%), transport (-16.8%) and cultural activities (-16.7%) were, predictably, among the hardest hit. Europeans also spent almost a fifth (-17.3%) less than usual on clothing and footwear.

You might imagine people in lockdown may have taken solace in alcohol, tobacco and narcotics, but data from Eurostat suggests otherwise, recording a small reduction. Even spending on health was around 5% lower than in 2019.

Eurostat’s data also reveals nations with the severest lockdowns saw the most dramatic drop in household consumption.

Household expenditure by consumption purpose in the EU, 2020 vs 2019.
Household consumption reduced by 8% across Europe during 2020. Image: Eurostat

Lockdown spending

However, unable to go out to restaurants and bars, Europeans spent more on food and non-alcoholic beverages. Cut off from friends and family – and forced to work from home in many cases – they also spent more on communications.

As a result of being indoors most of the time, people spent more on domestic utilities. Despite spending less overall, food, utilities and transport still accounted for more than half of total household expenditure in 2020.

Eurostat calculates the pandemic had a minor impact on prices in general in 2020, which continued to rise in line with a 10-year trend, although the costs of transport, communications, clothing and footwear all fell compared to 2019. health and healthcare, COVID

How has the Forum navigated the global response to COVID-19?

One year on: we look back at how the Forum’s networks have navigated the global response to COVID-19.

Using a multistakeholder approach, the Forum and its partners through its COVID Action Platform have provided countless solutions to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, protecting lives and livelihoods.How can we collaborate to stop the spread of COVID-19?

Throughout 2020, along with launching its COVID Action Platform, the Forum and its Partners launched more than 40 initiatives in response to the pandemic.

The work continues. As one example, the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs is supporting 90,000 social entrepreneurs, with an impact on 1.4 billion people, working to serve the needs of excluded, marginalized and vulnerable groups in more than 190 countries.

Read more about the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, our support of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemics Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI), and the COVAX initiative and innovative approaches to solve the pandemic, like our Common Trust Network – aiming to help roll out a “digital passport” in our Impact Story.

Household expenditure by consumption purpose, EU, 2020.
EU households spent the most on essential goods and services in 2020. Image: Eurostat

Malta saw Europe’s sharpest drop in household spending in 2020, down nearly a quarter (22%) compared with 2019, followed by Croatia (16.2%), Spain (15.8%), Greece (15.6%) and Cyprus (14.1%). Meanwhile, Slovakia (2.3%), Denmark (2.4%), Lithuania (2.8%) and Poland (3.3%) saw the smallest decreases.

Global consumer spending also slumped

It’s a similar story globally. Data from McKinsey shows consumer spending in China fell by 17% in 2020. But, among the leading economies, it says the UK was worst-hit with consumption dropping by over a quarter (26%) – four times the figure for 2008.

In the United States, Deloitte’s consumer spending tracker recorded a drop of almost 4% in 2020, reversing a 2.4% increase in consumer spending in 2019. Travel was most affected, while spending on home gyms soared, the company said.

Paradoxically, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that household disposable income actually rose last year in some developed economies with increases of around 10% recorded in Canada, Japan and the United States in the second quarter of 2020.

The OECD measure of disposable income includes increased savings and state benefits, and the organization partly attributes the increases to lower consumer spending and government schemes to support jobs and incomes during the pandemic.

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