Can a family in Switzerland live well on a median salary?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Can a family in Switzerland live well on a median salary?
Many families earning a median wage may not have anything left at the end of the month. Photo: Pixabay

Switzerland is a notoriously expensive country, more so in some regions than in others. Just how well can a family with two children live on median income?


First, there is this statement from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), based on its income distribution study: 

“Despite the high price levels in Switzerland, the population's financial situation, after deduction of obligatory expenditure, is more comfortable than that of its neighbouring countries and countries in the European Union."

This is based on the 2021 data, so the situation may have changed a bit after the inflation hit a year later, but the assertion that, on the whole, residents of Switzerland are better off than their European counterparts, remains true.

So how well (or not) can a four-person Swiss household live on a median wage?

Median income in Switzerland is 6,665 francs a month — let’s assume this is net — which means half of the population earns more and the other half less.

If you are a single person making this wage, then obviously you can live comfortably — though not extravagantly — even in high-cost cities like Zurich and Geneva.

But what about a family of four?

In many cases, both parents will be employed and their collective earnings will exceed the median income.

If, however, 6,665 francs a month is all that a four-person household has at its disposal, then making ends meet could be quite a challenge.

A lot depends, of course, on where in Switzerland this theoretical family lives, as some areas are more expensive than others.


Here's a look at the city / region with the highest cost of living — Zurich.

We analyse this area because many foreign nationals settle here, due to the region's economic opportunities.

The 6,665-franc income is not going to get the family very far. Let’s crunch the numbers.

Rent, medical, and other costs

A family that has a median or low income will not live in the city centre, but rather on the outskirts, where a typical rent for a three-room apartment (the minimum size for a family with two children) is at least 2,000 francs.

So after the rent is paid, the remaining disposable income shrinks to 4,665 francs. Out of that, they will need to pay obligatory health insurance premiums for all the members of the family.

Assuming the adults have taken out a policy with the highest co-pay deductible (and therefore cheapest overall), the cost will still be at least 300 francs a month, adding up, minimally, to 600 francs for the parents.

Insurance for minor children is cheaper — about 90 francs a month, which adds up to 180 francs; altogether, health insurance for this family costs about 780 francs a month.

Now its disposable income dips to 3,885 francs. 

But that’s not all.

Add all the utilities (about 290 a month), internet and mobile phones with unlimited plans (100 francs), and public transportation — 240 francs per adult and 175 per child for a monthly pass  that covers all zones — and you now have 2,685 francs left over from your median salary of 6,665. And if the family owns a vehicle, additional costs will eat up some of the income as well.

This amount —2,685— may seem like a lot of money for those living in the eurozone, but remember that this family has not yet purchased any groceries.

At the minimum, and only if they shop frugally, they will spend approximately 1,000 francs a month for household necessities, such as food, beverages, cleaning materials, toiletries, and other sundries. So now they are left with 1,685 francs.

If they are frugal, the family will spend 1,000 francs on food and other essentials. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Some of this money, however, will likely have to be spent on clothing and other miscellaneous goods and services, so at the end of the month this family will be left with very little — or nothing at all.

However, not all is as glum as it sounds.


Extra money

Switzerland has a system of family allowances intended to partly compensate for the costs of child rearing.

Anyone who is employed or self-employed, and earns at least 592 francs a month, can claim family allowances.

At least 200 francs a month is paid for each child up to 16 years of age. This means that our median-income family will receive extra 400 francs a month.

READ ALSO: What welfare benefits can you get if you have children in Switzerland?

Additionally, as the 780 francs this family pays each month for health insurance exceeds 8 percent of their income, they qualify for government subsidies.

The exact amount of financial help will depend on the cantons of residence, as these tariffs vary.


READ ALSO: How do I apply for healthcare benefits in Switzerland? 

So this is the general situation of a family of four living in Zurich and earning a median wage. 

What about cheaper regions?

It goes without saying that in cheaper areas, for instance in Jura, the median pay goes much farther than in Zurich.
For instance, a 3.5 room, 100 square-metre apartment in the canton rents for 1,200 francs a month, or even less, depending on the town. 

Other costs of living are cheaper as well, which means 6,665 francs is a decent salary in that canton. 

Ticino offers more bang for the franc as well.

Zurich is obviously an extreme case, with most cities and cantons —  except the notoriously high-cost ones like Geneva. Basel, and Lausanne — falling somewhere in between.

This means living on 6,665 francs a month will be more ‘doable’ there.

Please note that all the figures of costs and prices in this article are approximate, and based on available data, which may be more or less up to date in reflecting the actual situation. Also, households’ spending habits may differ, which would shift these numbers up- or downwards as well.


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