Tallinn University contributing to the pan-European SHARE survey: (Survey on Health, Ageing, and Retirement)

Official data and a publication on recent studies of SHARE (Survey on Health, Ageing and Retirement www.share-project.org)  were presented on 27 June 2013 in Brussels. The most recent wave of SHARE data was collected in 2010/2011 and provides a unique analysis of the various influences that the recent economic crisis had on the lives of people aged 50 and over in 16 European countries. The Estonian survey was conducted by Tallinn University's Institute of Demographics.

As revealed by a study covering 60,000 Europeans, economic recession is significantly affecting the health of people aged over 50, reports Estonian daily newspaper Postimees (www.postimees.ee).

Last Thursday, a study was presented in Brussels, containing data on health, work life, income and social networks of elderly in 16 states in the post-crisis Europe. The study revealed that, for instance, a high number of the Europeans aged 50 and over have been forced to keep on working.

In the decades ahead, Europe will be facing various economic and social challenges, the states’ average debt reaching 90 per cent. Reducing the debt will take dozens of years, or even more, since the financial forecasts have not taken into account the demographic imbalances caused by the ageing population. Due to the latter, the hidden debt will be far larger than the one we might have expected.

Low education hazard

"Demographically speaking, the amount of dependants will increase in most countries of Europe. There will be more and more elderly to care for", said Liili Abuladze, junior research fellow at the Demographics institute of Tallinn University. The elderly in Southern and Eastern Europe being at low wealth levels lack the buffer needed for economic shocks. In Eastern Europe, the health of the elderly is worse than in other regions of Europe. 

An important indicator assessing economic options is the percentage of spending on food. Here, the situation is especially problematic for the elderly in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean countries. Namely, the elderly in Portugal, Poland and Estonia spend over 40 per cent of their income on food.

Over 70 per cent of Estonian, Hungarian and Polish seniors never eat out, followed by the elderly in South European states. In Sweden, Austria and Switzerland, only 20 per cent of the elderly do not eat out. In addition to economic reasons, this pattern may also be caused by cultural differences. "Indeed, in Estonia or Southern Europe, people are perhaps more accustomed to eat food prepared in home or grown in the back yard, than in other regions", admits Ms Abuladze.

Due to the crisis, numerous elderly have continued working even into their retirement years. The economic downturn has negatively influenced the elderly people’s health, especially in areas with higher unemployment. In addition to that, the unemployed amongst the 50+ age group reveal remarkably higher depression risks.

More than 40 per cent of unemployed elderly in Switzerland, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia show four of more symptoms of depression. According to Ms Abuladze, all kinds of contentment indicators tend to be low amongst Estonians; this being especially severe in Poland with a whopping 55 per cent of unemployed elderly showing multiple symptoms of depression. 

The least depression symptoms are detected among the elderly in Holland. Holland is also the only country with lower depression levels among the non-working. The latter being the more remarkable that in Sweden and Denmark, sharing the second ranking in this category, the depression levels of unemployed elderly is more than three times that of the Dutch peers.

As people age, sickness risks rise. Higher education levels, development of technology and altered behaviour serve to curb the increase of the ranks of the disabled. «The disabled elderly with higher education levels are more likely to have friends,» claims Ms Abuladze. Herewith, it is vital to plug into social networks and receive help offered by circles of friends.

Estonians are family centred

According to the study, the elderly with smaller circles of acquaintances have poorer health – especially in mental aspects thereof, as well as signs of depression.

It also became evident that the disabled in Austria, Hungary, Estonia and Portugal are the most family centred – partly pointing to a need to develop care services. «The importance of the closeness of partners and children, in the social networks of the elderly, is great indeed,» assures Ms Abuladze.

In most countries, citizens would rather prefer not to support family members financially. In Austria, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Hungary, however, the chance of being supported economically by family members is significantly higher than elsewhere.

The publication, presenting the study results, is a fruit of cooperation of 67 scientists from 14 countries. There were 60,000 respondents from all over Europe.

In Estonia, the study was coordinated by Tallinn University’s Demographics Institute, and primary results were analysed by senior research fellow Luule Sakkeus and junior research fellow Liili Abuladze.