Making ageing valuable

August 2, 2006

Brussels, 01 Aug 2006

The Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) project has completed its investigation into life beyond middle age, looking at the 50-plus age-group and what this group means to Europe.

The survey quizzed 22,000 people in 11 EU countries. 'Europe is blessed with large cultural, historical, and political differences - even within small distances,' said Professor Axel Börsch-Supan from the Mannheim Research Institute for the Economics of Ageing, coordinator of the project. SHARE was funded under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), with collaborating institutions in Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France.

'SHARE provides a reliable scientific infrastructure that permits researchers in public health, economics, and the social sciences to use modern quantitative methods that compare countries and regions within Europe. Doing so will help us understand how culture, history and public policy - particularly important in these times of social and economic reform - affect the lives of Europeans over the age of 50,' he said.

The breadth and depth of data gives statisticians plenty to chew over, but some salient features have already been drawn out. The information is available for researchers to use, and could be used for research into our ageing population for years to come.

Looking at Europe as a whole, a general picture shows a divide. 'Northern Europeans are healthier and wealthier but the people in the South live longer,' says Professor Börsch-Supan.

However, whether you are from northern or southern Europe, there is a strong correlation between level of education and overall fitness. Those with lower educational levels are far more likely to be physically inactive, or even obese.

Heath and fitness is also a factor in cognitive degeneration. Those from lower socio-economic groups are more likely to suffer from diseases such as Alzheimer's or depression.

Europe-wide care for the elderly was found to be lacking, particularly in the testing and monitoring of preventable illnesses - the survey found an overall lack of geriatric assessments and screening tests.

At work, the survey found that in those countries with incentives for people to take early retirement - generally southern Europe, France and Austria - people will tend to take those incentives and retire early. And who can blame them?

However, the perceived quality of the work is also an influence. People who rate their work highly will be more likely to continue with it. Wellbeing is strongly correlated with quality of employment.

Another crucial factor for wellbeing is family influence and proximity. Europe-wide, contact across the generations, for example between grandparents and grandchildren, is very high. This reinforces family ties and increases the strength of family networks, which work to support family members. The family unit is also essential in reducing perceived poverty. This is particularly true in southern Europe and Germany.

There is a difference in how money distributes across the generations. In northern Europe, parents tend to provide and help their progeny, while in the south, children give back to their parents.

Further information and to read the full report

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2006
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