The Elderly between the Needs for Care and Active Ageing

4. Active Ageing

The difference in the disability rates, the lack of health improvements, the geographic distribution of poverty, the territorial differences in income and the scarcity of care and health services on offer in the South, are all indicators which supply a picture of social disadvantages experienced by the southern elderly. All the factors listed have, indeed a significant impact on people’s wellbeing (in the widest possible sense of the term).

Can it be hypothesised that there is a relationship between the above indicators of social depravation and active ageing? And what type? In this part we formulate two hypotheses on the question.

a) Social hardship negatively impacts on the quality of life understood in its broad sense, as stated in Donati (1997) “ability to plan and command of oneself, existential vitality and life opportunities”, and ends in inhibiting capacity for self promotion on the part of the elderly thus jeopardising the very possibility of living ageing in an active manner.

b) Social unease and economic depravation are factors which, on the other hand, force the elderly to engage in work in order to meet their personal and economic needs (in this regard one thinks of the curse of youth unemployment in the South of Italy).

To check these hypotheses we analyse the distribution of employment rates among the over 65s (from 1993 to 2003) by geographical macro areas. As shown by Table 4 employment rates among the elderly are higher in the South (in the whole decade covered). It is plausible, therefore, as we have hypothesised in point b, that social unease and economic depravation somehow “push” the elderly to hang on to their jobs. In other words, though in difficult life conditions and in less than the best of health, they “stand firm”, they don’t give up or react passively, but on the contrary they take action, remaining in the labour market.

Table 4: Number of users over 65 who have taken advantage of Integrated Home Care and the take-up index – year 2003.
Source: Istat Workforce survey – Riconstruction of the historical series – IV trim 2003, Istat demographic data – our elaboration.

In an article published in La Repubblica (14 August 2008) there was the following: “In the United States the number of workers aged over sixty five years increased by 101% from 1977 to 2007, and by 2016 another leap of 80% is predicted. Among elderly workers in the last 30 years the number of elderly women has increased by 147% and of men by 75%. The number of workers over 75 years of age has increased by 172% and even if in 2007 they represent 0.8% of the total, the number is destined to rise by 80% by 2016, abetted by good health and economic straits”. It appears therefore that the experience of the American elderly is similar to that of the southern elderly: regardless of their state of heath, be it good or fair, they remain in the labour market, though more from necessity than from choice. Poor economic resources at a time of life, when there is the fear of illness and care needs, force the elderly to continue working so as to protect themselves independently from ageing linked risks. This happens above all in those territorial contexts such as the South of Italy, where the sparse system of socio-health services forces the elderly to have recourse, more than elsewhere, to private care.

Looking now at the movement of employment rates over the decade (cf. Figure 15) it has emerged that, despite the health improvements in the elderly (cf. Figure 1), from 1993 to 2003 employment has fallen among both genders and in every geographical area.

Figure 15: Movement of employment rates among the Italian population at 65 years and over, by geographic spread.
Source: Istat Workforce survey – Reconstruction of the historical series – IV trim 2003, Istat demographic data – our elaboration.

These movements lead us to reflect on the fact that, in reality, the factors which favour continuing to work are many and that good health is only one of them. In a study of a few years ago (Irpps-CNR 2001)(Institute for research on Population and Social Policies-National Research Council) it was shown that the main activities occupying the free time of the over 65s were domestic ones (78%) among which care of grandchildren stands out sharply. The third generations – the grandparents – act as shock absorbers and this role has motivated many adults-elderly to retire. As Livi Bacci stated (La Repubblica 13 April 2008) the further increase in the grandparents-grandchildren relationship in the next twenty years risks accentuating the phenomenon, thus keeping the employment of the third generations (the lowest in Europe) low, and accentuating, besides, the inequalities between those who receive support from strong family ties and those who have none.

If then the welfare system doesn’t support young families in caring for the smallest children through a service system that supports working women, grandparents remain the only and precious resource. Their better health and their time are made available within the family circle and not in wider social contexts, or even less in the labour market.

Figure 16: Activity rates by educational qualification – 65 years and over population – Males
Source: Istat: Workforce. Average 2006 – our elaboration.

Figure 17: Activity rate by educational qualification – 65 years and over population – Females

Source: Istat: Workforce. Average 2006 – our elaboration.

With regard to Table 4 it is not by chance that that the gap between rates of male occupation and those of women is seen to be significant, regardless of geographical area or year of reference. Women, in fact are more involved than men in the work of caring for the family. And this happens, as is shown in Figure 16 and Figure 17 even for women who have higher educational qualifications. It can be seen that education is a factor which has a positive effect on active ageing, since it is above all individuals with higher educational qualifications who remain in the labour market at an advanced age (probably because they have better jobs, with better pay). However women, even if well educated and well placed in the labour market, decide to leave the market also, and perhaps mainly, because they are responding to family care needs (children and parents who are very old and so in need of care).

Active old age, ultimately, is the result of various policies, policies which not only promote the right to health, but which support those who work in family care, policies of permanent education, policies which on the whole safeguard the individual’s freedom to choose how to live his or her own old age.

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