What follows is a guide on how to use the main living standards in Stellaris for strategic benefit.
The main thing that living standards do is set the cost to support a pop for each social class of a species. Additionally, living standards can have an impact on the happiness, political power and trade generated by pops. A few living standards generate more specific productivity bonuses.
Pops consume food and also specific resources for their job. Besides that they also have an upkeep cost in consumer goods which varies according to their living standards and social class. The more a pop costs in upkeep the less the net yield of its job, all else being equal.
Trade value is generated by pops just by existing in addition to any trade value they may create from a job. How much trade a pop generates this way depends on their rank and living standard.
The happiness of your pops affects three different mechanics: colony stability, governing ethics attraction and overall diplomatic weight.
Pop happiness affects colony stability through affecting the pop approval rating. High pop happiness contributes to high pop approval rating and low pop happiness causes low pop approval rating. In turn pop approval affects stability.
The happiness of pops also affects overall diplomatic weight. A maximally happy pop is worth three times the diplomatic weight of an unhappy pop or drone.
Happy pops will be more likely to adopt the governing ethics and support the relevant factions. Unhappy pops will tend to adopt ethics contrary to the governing ethics and also join the respective factions. So happy pops will tend to yield more unity through factions.
Moreover to the extent that a faction is satisfied, or not, by the accomplishments and policies of the government their faction approval will modify the happiness of their members, for good or ill.
A pop’s political power influences the extent to which their happiness, or lack thereof, affects the overall pop approval rating. The happiness of pops with high political power affects pop approval more than those with low political power.
This section covers the living standards available to all organic empires.
The default living standard is decent conditions. It is the standard living standard against which all else can be compared. Upkeep rises with rank but so also does trade value, political power and happiness.
The miser’s choice for slaves and residents is basic subsistence. Upkeep rises with rank but is only half or less than that of decent conditions. All ranks have happiness penalties which get worse the lower down you go. The political power of all ranks is reduced compared with decent conditions.
This living standard is unavailable to species with full citizenship.
For raw productivity it has potential, if the happiness penalties do not matter to you.
Stellaris’s answer to the nordic model is the social welfare living standard. Upkeep is increased for workers and slaves, but to the benefit of a modest happiness bonus to all ranks. Also removes the happiness penalty for unemployed pops.
Political power is also a little more evenly distributed across the strata compared with decent conditions. It is a fair choice for any economy with consumer goods to spare.
It is especially good for an economy heavy on specialists but low on workers. Compared with decent conditions, specialists have more happiness for the same upkeep, while workers have a lot more upkeep for their happiness bonus.
The kinder slavers could even use this living standard for their slaves. The happiness bonus does a fair about to mitigate the happiness penalties from being a slave while not really increasing upkeep too much.
This section covers the living standards only available to empires with specific governing ethics.
Unlocked by the materialist ethics, academic privilege is most notable for a bonus to the research points generated by ruler and specialist jobs. Besides that, specialist upkeep is quite high and political power is increased for specialists. Rulers and specialists also have a better than average bonus to happiness.
The high upkeep on specialists is not a small issue with this living standard. Your researchers may get a small bonus to their job output for that cost but your other specialists do not, bureaucrats, metallurgists, artisans, entertainers etc.
As far as possible you want to avoid letting pops with this living standard work specialist jobs that are not researchers.
The best use of this living standard would be in an empire heavily supported by pre-sapient robots, or else an ethnically diverse slaver empire employing species stratification.
Otherwise you could structure an economy like a merchant / cash crop economy or the fleet economy that minimises the number of pops working specialist jobs to mainly researchers by obtaining alloys and consumer goods by other means.
Unlocked by authoritarian ethics, stratified economy increases the happiness and political power of ruler tier jobs at the expense of happiness and political power of worker tier jobs. Worker tier jobs also have reduced upkeep.
Stratified economy is very decent for a heavily trade based economy with many merchants and clerks, as can be done with the Mercantile tradition. Your happy merchants will give great pop approval while your clerks are practically free of upkeep.
Likewise it could serve well for a very militaristic build employing many soldiers for naval capacity. It is also good for offsetting the happiness and stability issues with a slave based economy.
Watch out for other issues affecting the happiness of the ruler class though. When all your pop approval rests on just a few pops, it only takes a few of them turning unhappy to tank all your stability.
Unlocked by egalitarian ethics, utopian abundance is social welfare dialed up to 11. All tiers have the same high upkeep, high trade value and high happiness bonus. The unemployed have no happiness penalty and even generate a little research and unity.
Utopian abundance is among the most expensive of living standards. The high happiness bonus across all ranks helps towards diplomatic weight, as happy pops count for three unhappy ones.
It also helps to keep pops supporting the governing ethics. Another benefit you are buying with all those consumer goods is high colony stability and in turn low crime and high productivity.
The weakness of this living standard is the cost. Even your basic worker consumes as much upkeep as a ruler.
This section is for living standards unlocked by civics.
Unlocked by the shared burdens civic, the shared burden living standard is old school communism. It is sort of an opposite egalitarianism to that utopian abundance. Utopian abundance treats the worker like a ruler, whereas shared burdens treats rulers like workers. It is like 1950s USA vs 1970s USSR. Everybody is equally rich vs everybody is equally poor.
Upkeep, trade value and happiness is the same for all classes but tend to the low side. This makes for cheap rulers but relatively expensive workers. The lowish happiness bonus does not do much for diplomatic weight. Neither do the lowish trade values do much for a trade based economy on their own.
However, and ironically, cheap ruler tier jobs is somewhat decent for a merchant economy made through the mercantilism tradition, especially using the void dwellers or shattered ring origins. This is the only way to spam ruler tier jobs to the point where the upkeep might matter.
Unlocked by the pleasure seekers or corporate hedonism civics, the decadent living standard is like utopian abundance on the cheap. The benefits in terms of a strong happiness bonus across all strata of a society and trade bonus are the same.
It differs from utopian abundance in that ruler upkeep is more, while specialist and worker upkeep is less. Political power also skews towards rulers. There is nothing for the unemployed too.
The high cost of upkeep for rulers does not make it very good for a merchant economy, where you are spamming merchants. It does make for relatively happy and cost-effective specialists and workers though.
There is one living standard that does not fit in the above categories. It is unlocked by the researching the rare tech subdermal stimulation.
Chemical bliss has twice the happiness bonus of utopian abundance, while the trade value per pop and upkeep are the same. Unlike utopian abundance it can also be assigned to slaves and when assigned to slaves has very low upkeep. The big drawback however is an absolutely crushing penalty to job output.
The main intended use for this living standard is presumably to keep species being purged from revolting. The penalty to job output may not apply to all jobs though. Some jobs produce amenities, trade, stability, naval capacity, planetary defence armies and happiness, which may not suffer this penalty.
It occurs to me that battle-thralls on chemical bliss employed as soldiers, enforcers or duelists could work.
Then there are pops kept as livestock.
There we go, a nice strategy guide to the main living standards in stellaris. What is your favourite living standard?
If you also like, you can also get some more ideas about strategies around living standards with my article on species stratification.