What are Estonians like?

In December, our Institute of Psychology celebrated its 50th anniversary with a conference entitled “Estonian Measures”, where researchers presented their findings on Estonians.

Märt Avandi and Ott Sepp
Estonian actors Märt Avandi and Ott Sepp performing true Estonians
at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Estonian film.
Image credit: Ülo Josing / ERR Archives

What is the Estonian character like?

Based on research, the Estonian character is not much different from that of other nations; however, the way Estonians perceive themselves is another story. The research, co-authored by Professor of Experimental Psychology Jüri Allik, showed that Estonians’ self-image is based on what they think of Russians. Estonians imagine themselves to be the opposite of Russians.

Estonians believe that Russians are extroverts while Estonians are introverts; Russians speak a lot – Estonians are mostly silent, which is a sign of intelligence; Russians are insistently friendly – Estonians are withdrawn; Russians are lazy and disorderly – Estonians are industrious, orderly, and goal-oriented.

Allik stressed that these are stereotypes which are far from reality.

How much do Estonians eat?

According to the National Institute for Health Development, the average body mass index of an Estonian is 26,2. Anything beyond 25 is considered to be overweight.

Every fifth person’s body mass index in Estonia is over 30. In comparison with 180 countries, Estonia is in 92nd place. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2025, every third person in Estonia will be overweight.

The question is what we do with this knowledge. Jorgen Matsi, a psychologist, head coach, and consultant, says that the usual advice – that especially people who don’t struggle with overweight like to give – is to eat less and move more. “Technically speaking, it is correct, as is the advice to a drowning person to inhale less water and swim more. This means that saying this is not always helpful”.

How much do Estonians drink?

In 2017, the average Estonian who was at least 15 years old drank 10,3 l of pure alcohol per year (1 l of pure alcohol makes 3,2 l of vodka, or 11 l of wine). Ten years earlier, this figure was as high as 14,8 l.

The recommended low-risk threshold for men is 10,6 l of pure alcohol per year and for women it is twice less – 5,3 l per year.

Ninety per cent of Estonians have tried alcohol during their lifetime. Worldwide, 39,5% of people drink alcohol. In several African states the number is close to zero. Europe is the region with the world’s highest alcohol consumption.

According to Maali Käbin from the National Institute for Health Development, researchers have also looked into the issue of whether some alcohol consumption can be beneficial. The most recent research says no.

Every third child in Estonia would like their parent to stop drinking alcohol. Every fourth family is characterized by overconsumption of alcohol. Two in three cases of domestic violence are connected to alcohol in Estonia.

What is the Estonian mood like?

According to the world’s happiness report, Estonia holds 63rd place out of 156 countries. Finland boasts first place in this ranking. Critics say that the report reflects satisfaction with one’s income and quality of life rather than the level of happiness, which might be true.

The European Social Survey documents, among other things, how happy and calm people are. Young Estonians are significantly calmer than young Finns. As Estonians grow older, their calm diminishes, whereas for Finns it grows. By the age of 60 there is no difference between Estonians and Finns.

However, Estonians experience significantly more depression and anxiety than Finns do. While young Estonians and Finns experience depression and anxiety on the same level, the level of these diminishes with age for Finns and increases with age for Estonians.

On a scale of 10, overall life satisfaction is 5,7 for Estonians and 7,6 for Finns.

“The question is: how will Estonians in their twenties feel after 40 years?” concluded UT researcher Liisi Kööts-Ausmees.

A 10-second test

This is not quite scientific, but a proven test indeed. You are probably a typical Estonian if you can answer without thinking where this sentence is from:

Kui Arno isaga koolimajja jõudis, olid tunnid juba alanud” (In English: “When Arno and his father reached the school, the lessons had already begun”).

According to Jüri Allik, this test was proposed by Endel Tulving, a memory researcher with an Estonian background.

This story is based on Heli Raamets’ article, “Eestlane teab täpselt, milline ta on: igatahes mitte naabri moodi!“, published in Maaleht on 27.12.2018.

Inga Külmoja is an author and the editor of the UT Blog.

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