A (Mostly) Good Life

A new study gives insight to Vienna’s appeal for expats

News | Stephanie Levett, Michael Freund | April 2009

It is said that the Viennese always complain. Well, there’s one group in Vienna that doesn’t: the ex-pats living here. At least those who have a good job.

This is one of the main findings of a study about the attractiveness of the city "for qualified international labor." The authors, Prof. Arno Haslberger of Webster University Vienna and Prof. Karl Zehetner of the Private University for Management Vienna, set out to assess what impressions their subjects gather during their stay here, since this "might have more of an effect on the (city’s and country’s) reputation …. than promotional brochures and image campaigns" – which is why City Hall and its business agency supported the research; the American Chamber of Commerce in Austria was also interested in how its constituency is faring here and contributed too.

The city’s politicians like to point out that Vienna’s location, "in the heart of Europe" and at the border of EU’s east and west, makes it almost by definition one of the important business capitals in Europe.  But the two researchers – one a management professor, the other in business administration – intended to get at the core of the matter and conducted a detailed quantitative study.

Three hundred and twenty-nine questionnaires were completed.  Ninety percent of the respondents have university degrees and have lived in Vienna for more than one year. A quarter of them work for international organizations.  The respondents represent 56 nations including Australia, America, Canada, France, South Africa and Japan, more than a third come from "other non-EU countries."

And what grades does Vienna get from its international workforce?  Evaluating the city’s quality of living, the ex-pats agree with the overall international opinion that this is a city with high prosperity, security and quality of life.  The infrastructure receives top marks as well, with over 90% of the respondents rating it good to very good.

Forty-three percent live here with their children, so for them the choice of the international schools and universities that Vienna has to offer is presumably an important criterion. Overall, more than two-thirds of the respondents are satisfied with the international schools. The study does not seem to differentiate between Austrian and international universities, but in any case the percentage of people who rank them as (very) positive is slightly lower: 61%. And only some 34% are happy with the "instruction in children’s mother tongue".

Public administration does not get great marks (the natives would second this, by the way). Vienna is often called the capital of bureaucracy, and the respondents in this survey prove this, with only 29% considering the administration here easy to handle.

Before they landed here, only 32% of the sample expected the city to be a business center for Central and Eastern Europe; two thirds did not. "Now" the figures are reversed. The numbers are similar for the item "International congress center." Only when it comes to "High tech center," the positive expectations were low "before" (14%) and are "now" not much higher (22%).

There are a few more issues that cloud the rosy image of gemütliches Wien: The Viennese are viewed as unfriendly and xenophobic by a majority of the ex-pats, and almost half of them don’t feel welcome. (As a little aside: One of the alleged ingredients of Gemütlichkeit – smoking in almost all restaurants – annoys almost two thirds.)

The city marketers may rest assured by most of the results, though, that Vienna is doing just fine. In direct comparisons concerning leisure activities, arts and culture and especially safety, Vienna scores better among the ex-pats than London.

They didn’t ask about Paris.

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