International results of the TSSA

The divide between east and west

In Europe, the governments and social insurances of each country protect the population by offering various social benefits. Countries' expenditure on these benefits vary according to their economic situation, the population’s health status and their demographic structure, among others. The countries with the highest social expenditure are found mainly in Northern and Western Europe. It is lower in the Eastern European countries.


In 2017, Switzerland's expenditure on social benefits amounted to CHF 20 668 per inhabitant and is among the highest in international comparison. This amount corresponds to 26.1 % of the gross domestic product (GDP), which places Switzerland in the middle of the scale.


Strongest social security system in the wealthy countries

As can be seen from the graph below, spending on social benefits is generally higher in countries with a high GDP (e.g. Denmark) than it is in countries with a lower GDP (e.g. North Macedonia). Switzerland is the third most prosperous country on the European continent (GDP per inhabitant: CHF 79 000). Its social expenditure as a percentage of the GDP (26.1%) is in an intermediate position close to the European Union average (EU-28: 26.8%).

Per inhabitant social expenditure is increasing almost everywhere

In Switzerland, social expenditure per inhabitant (and at constant prices) increased both in the short term (e.g. +1.2% between 2016 and 2017) and in the medium term (e.g. +2.4% per annum between 2008 and 2017). An increase in social expenditure can also be observed in most European countries (see graph below).

Social expenditure decreases in Greece: spending on health fell by 38% between 2008 and 2017 in the context of fiscal austerity. Hungary has also experienced a contraction in social expenditure over this period, particularly in the areas of disability and unemployment.

Economic developments and social expenditure

In the European countries surveyed, social expenditure grew faster than economic activity (GDP) between 1995 and 2017. Sweden and Ireland are exceptions: here, social expenditure as a percentage of the GDP fell by 3.5 and 3.1 percentage points respectively. In Switzerland, social benefits as a percentage of the GDP increased by 5.7 points (from 20.4% to 26.1%). Only Greece and Italy saw a faster increase in social expenditure (6.4 and 5.7 percentage points of GDP).

For most Eastern European countries, data are available from 2000 onwards. Between 2000 and 2017, social benefits as a percentage of the GDP in these countries remained stable at around 18% on average and against the context of an economic catch-up.

Benefits paid mainly for old age and sickness

The many social benefits provided in Switzerland and other European countries can be classified by the type of risk or need that they cover (social security by function).

In financial terms, old age represents the first area of intervention of the social security system. This is true in Switzerland (11.1% of the GDP) as in most other European countries (EU-28 average, 10.8% of the GDP). In general, the higher the share of the older population, the higher this expenditure.

Social expenditure on health is in second place. In Switzerland, benefits paid in this area amount to 8.3% of GDP, in Germany 10.0%, in France 9.1% and in Italy 6.5%.

Next in importance are expenditure for families/children, the disabled and survivors (in the EU-28: 2.3%, 2.0% and 1.4% of the GDP, respectively). In Switzerland, disability benefits (2.1% of GDP) are higher than those for families/children (1.6% of the GDP).

Both in Switzerland and in the European Union, unemployment, social exclusion and housing absorb percentages of the GDP which are close to or below 1%. The good economic situation in 2017 has contributed to the low level of unemployment benefits in Europe.


Taxes and social contributions finance social security

Social security expenditure is funded by different sources (“receipts”). The most important are social contributions and government funding.

In Switzerland, social contributions from employers and protected persons account for 65% of revenue. The share borne by protected persons, in particular employees, is 36% and that of employers 29%. By way of comparison, in the EU, these two types of social contributions amount to 20% and 35% respectively.

The second most important financial source is public contributions. In Switzerland, these account for 24% of the total revenue. This share is relatively low in international comparison: public contributions are less important only in four countries (Poland with 18% and Estonia, the Netherlands and Latvia with 23%).

In Switzerland, property income is a not insignificant source of financing. This accounts for 11% of social security receipts. These are mainly generated on the financial and real estate markets, particularly by pension funds. In four European countries in particular, the share of property income is higher than in Switzerland: the Netherlands, 16%; Iceland, 14%; Poland, 13% and the United Kingdom, 12%.

Further information


Other statistics on financial flows of social protection

Statistical sources and concepts


Federal Statistical Office Section Social Analyses
Espace de l'Europe 10
CH-2010 Neuchâtel



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