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Austria is a small nation located in central Europe and surrounded by eight nations namely Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein (CIA, 2010, p. 3). Currently, the landlocked nation has a population of about 8,214,160 million people, with a vast majority of them speaking German (CIA, 2010, p. 2).
Austria’s history can be briefly traced back to the existence of the Roman Empire because it was a small province in the vast territory (even though it now stands as one of the most powerful nations in Europe) (CIA, 2010, p. 2).
However, before the country got its powerful status; a few years preceding the First World War, the nation was known as Austria-Hungary, characterizing its lack of independence at the time. Later, Nazi Germany took control of the country until 1955 when the country was able to achieve its independence to become a democratic state with its own distinct constitution (CIA, 2010, p. 2).
Currently, the country is comprised of 9 provinces with its capital, Vienna, being the largest city with a rough population of about 2 million people (Advameg Inc, 2010, p. 2). In global country comparisons, Austria has been able to maintain a leading position in achieving one of the highest standards of living in the world because it is estimated that the country posts a per capita GDP of a bout $44,000 (according to 2010 estimates) which is one of the highest globally (CIA, 2010, p. 3).
These estimates make Austria one of the richest nations worldwide. Despite these comparisons, Austria has a very diverse culture and economy; brought about by the diversity in the origin of its inhabitants (constituting Turks, Croatians, Slovenes, Serbs, Bosniaks, Austrians, and Germans) (CIA, 2010, p. 3).
This is true because even though a vast majority of the population speaks German, there are many more Croatian speakers, Hungarian speakers, and Slovene speakers (CIA, 2010, p. 3). The economic landscape of the country is also diverse and it will be interesting to analyze its make up to establish why the country constantly cuts a mark as one of the richest nations globally. From this platform, this study will seek to dissect the cultural and economic makeup of the country.
As mentioned above, Austria has a very diverse and rich culture. When analyzed in terms of art, Austria stands as a rich source of artwork encompassing wood carvings, tapestries, and the likes, however, a majority of these artifacts are only popular in the Alpine areas of the country (Maps of World, 2009, p. 3).
Musically, the country has bred many world renowned musicians such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Anton Bruckner, Joseph Haydn and the likes but the nurturing of such musicians comes from a deep appreciation of music by the general population as can be seen from Vienna’s harboring of many frequently visited Opera houses (Maps of World, 2009, p. 3).
Nonetheless, despite the fact that the country boasts of a high appreciation for art and music, the overall cultural makeup of the nation is not uniform. This comes about because the country’s provinces have their own distinctive cultures originating from the influence neighboring nations have on them.
However, there are some grey areas to this analysis as can be evidenced from the diet of the general population which normally consists of milk (or coffee) for breakfast accompanied by bread or butter (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 7). This is to be later followed by a midmorning snack comprised of sausage or mustard on a hard roll while lunch is comprised of a main course of meal (majorly sausage) and the popular Wiener schnitzel which is served with soup and vegetables as the last course of meal (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 7).
It is a common culture that Austrians take a mid-afternoon break at a coffeehouse which conventionally serves as a common social place or a venue to grab a light snack (either in midmorning or afternoon breaks) (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 7). These coffee houses usually have their own distinct ambiences, though they serve alcohol too. In the evening, most Austrians take light fares, cold meat, cheese and finish with wine or beer before they go to sleep (since supper does not constitute the main meal of the day, lunch does) (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 8).
Another grey area to the cultural makeup of the population is the social class stratification across the general population of the country. Since 1800, Austria had been highly stratified in distinct social classes defining three major social institutions (aristocrats, citizens and the peasant population) that existed then (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 10).
The population bulge also existed along class parameters, such that, at the start of the 20th century, there was a small population of aristocrats; a relatively bigger population of the working class and a distinctively huge population of the peasant farmers (which constituted more than half the total population of the country) (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 10).
To date, the country has more respect for families which were traditionally wealthy as compared to new and wealthy families hailing from immigrant groups (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 10). This means that lineage and inheritance is a common source of respect in Austria’s culture while the possession of symbols of wealth such as material possesions (as opposed to land, as was observed in previous centuries) is also a common source of respect.
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These social classes primarily define the belief system of the nationals since they articulate political, economic and social beliefs attributed to each group. The major decisions existent in the past were clearer between the periods of first and second world wars where the population was divided between conservatives, liberalists and proponents of Christian politics (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 10).
However, the end of the Second World War dissolved these social stratifications because it saw the emergence of a vibrant middle class, which also meant an overhaul of the country’s social structure.
This development was facilitated by the economic change of the country because the government embarked on an effort to increase the mobility of people across social structures, thereby leading to increased prosperity and high standards of living for all. Currently, the country has a very high middle income population group and education is considered the tool of class mobility (even though the country still has a difficult time trying to accept immigrants into the middle income group) (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 10).
Apart from the social division of Austria’s population, the country is still grappling with the problem of equalizing its workforce because many citizens still hold the belief that women are supposed to do basic household chores involving talking care of the family, cooking and such like traditional roles associated with women (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 12).
However, there is a growing male population from young families which tries to change this perception but yet; Austria still stands as a country which gives fewer opportunities for women wanting to pursue their careers (out of the home context) when compared to other European nations (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 12).
Women are also poorly represented in corporate circles, except for the small minority who have college degrees because across the board, its part of Austria’s culture for women to take up positions which require fewer skills and less educational qualifications when compared to their male counterparts (for instance, women only take up less than 40% of all governmental jobs) (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 12).
At the same time, like most countries across the globe, women are also still being paid less for the same type of job men do (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 13).
From these indicative perceptions, it doesn’t come as a surprise that most families (especially old and rural families) still consider males as the head of the households, even though the institution of marriage is slowly fading away.
In other words, there is an increasingly high divorce rate in the country and many young couples are opting to take the less uncommon route of staying single as opposed to marrying (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 14). More young couples are also opting to raise children by themselves (without the help of partners) and even more women (especially educated women) are choosing to take up career roles at the expense of family roles.
This worrying trend has been greatly facilitated by the dwindling role religion plays in the lives of most Austrians even though most wedding ceremonies currently being held in the country are carried out in Roman Catholic churches. However, there are still some conventional households (especially the rural areas) where the family unit still remains intact with the nuclear and extended family living together under the same roof (Advameg, Inc, 2010, p. 14).
Austria’s economy is largely a social one, with its operations closely entangled with other European economies (majorly Germany’s, since the country joined the European Union in 1995) (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 1). Since 1999, the country has been operating with the Euro as its major trading currency, in place of the schilling (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 1).
The recent participation of Austria in the EU marked the major turning point for the country’s economy as it moved towards the path of prosperity because it implied increased economic growth, improved economic structural changes, price stability, more consolidation of public finances and an improvement of taxation, administrative, pension and health care systems. These parameters have been the bedrock to which the country’s economy stands in the path of prosperity today.
Euro Challenge (2010, p. 3) affirms these sentiments by stating that “Solid economic policies focusing on macroeconomic stability, structural reform, and an early focus on Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe, especially in the banking and insurance sector, explain Austria’s strong economic performance in the recent past”.
Part of the economic growth has also been strengthened by increased competitiveness of the country’s economy, coming from an improvement in wage moderations due to strong partnerships with other world economies and an emphasis on export focused growth.
Even though the country largely does trade with non EU members, more than 76% of the country’s volume of trade is done with other European countries and an even greater volume is done with Germany (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 3). Vienna is the country’s economic hub and it’s projected to be the biggest contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 3).
In spite of the strong indicators of economic prosperity, the small European nation had been rocked by the recent 2007/2008 global economic crisis which threatened to reverse the competitive nature of the economy because before the crisis, the country’s economy had recorded a growth of about 3%, but the crisis slowed down the progress to less than 2%, before it revamped back to 3.6% in 2009 (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 3).
When projections by the European commission, spring 2010, forecast is factored into the overall performance of Austria’s economy, it can be said that the country’s budget deficit is projected to grow from a low of about 3.4 % in 2005 to a high of about 4.7% in 2010; a trend which shows the level of economic stimulus package Austria’s government has endeavored to engage in, after the advent of the economic financial slump (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 3).
Also, in relation to the overall Gross Domestic Product of the country, government debt is estimated to comprise up to 70%, in 2010, implying that the country is operating below the current average observed in most European countries, but still above the 60% limit set by the European Union (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 5).
According to global competitiveness and the attractiveness of doing business in Austria (with regards to the World Economic Forum (WEF) and World Bank rankings), Austria was marked 17th out of 133 countries and the 28th out of 183 countries respectively (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 7).
The main challenge identified by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Austria’s economy is the need for the government to constantly control its budget and carry out more reforms on its healthcare, pensions, and fiscal federalism policies (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 12). Overall, Austria has in the past recorded a growth rate of about 2.2% over the last decade or so, even though this percentage has fallen in the recent past to about 1.6% in 2010 (according to the OECD) (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 13).
Austria’s trade and industry is majorly driven by a number of its traditional economic sectors such as machinery development, textile industry, development of metallurgical products and the likes (Euro Challenge, 2010, p. 13). However, in the 21st century, a significant portion of the country’s economy is also driven by its robust tourism industry.
Most of the industries and companies currently operating are private, considering the government embarked on a privatization move to rid the nation of the strong governmental control the population saw of its industries.
The privatization move by the country, coupled with its entry into the European Union has seen an increase in global investors (especially from the European Union) who have spurred more economic growth in the recent past. The above economic components majorly define the socio market nature of the economy, which in turn supports the high standard of living characteristic of the country.
Austria has a very diverse economic and social composition. The country’s sterling performance in these sectors is partially attributed to the nation’s participation in the wider European Union; a move which has also seen an influx of cultural practices especially from the country’s 8 neighboring countries.
The cultural make up of the nation is dominantly influenced by German culture which commands a strong influence on the population when compared to other significant cultural groups. However, most parts of the country have their own distinct cultural compositions, but a greater portion of the population is primarily under German cultural influence.
The same is also observed of its economic composition, though increased trade with other European nations seems to change the once strong economic dependence on Germany.
Austria’s economy is also primarily supported by governmental efforts to make progressive policies in its pension, healthcare, and financial sectors, in addition to the contribution tourism industry and its export-centered market focus has on the economy. The above factors are known to define the socioeconomic nature of Austria’s economy as well as the diverse cultural makeup of the nation.
Advameg, Inc. (2010). Austria. Web.
CIA. (2010). Austria. Web.
Euro Challenge. (2010). Austria: An Overview of Austria’s Economy. Web.
Maps of World. (2009). Economy of Austria. Web.