Active Ageing: What differential experiences across EU countries?

Population ageing remains a long-term common challenge for all European countries, although its magnitude, speed and timing vary across European countries (Lanzieri 2011). The potential implications on the size and shape of public services and finances as well as on the future growth and on living standards are considerable (Economic Policy Committee 2009a; 2009b). A change is therefore called for in public policies and institutions as well as in individual behaviours towards extending working lives and also to contribute to society through other unpaid non-market activities (for example through volunteering and family care) during old age. This challenge has taken a particular urgency since the working age populations in most EU countries will start shrinking as the large baby boom cohorts reach retirement age. The growth in working-age population in many countries already depends on migration.1
In order to understand better the emphasis on the active ageing phenomenon, a useful distinction is between ‘chronological ageing’ (i.e. a change in age that people of all ages experience, say, from cradle to grave) and ‘social ageing’ (which is a social construct involving expectations as well as institutional constraints towards how older people act as they age). The active ageing movement links specifically with the social ageing phenomenon in which, with rising life expectancy on average, older people are expected to continue to participate longer in the formal labour market as well as in other productive activities. In the spirit of promoting longer active lives, the active ageing agenda calls for a higher retirement age and adjustments in the work environment adapted to the ageing workforce. For example, László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion has noted that ‘the key to tackling the challenges of an increasing proportion of older people in our societies is “active aging”: encouraging older people to remain active by working longer and retiring later, by engaging in volunteer work after retirement, and by leading healthy and autonomous lives’ (Commission of the European Communities, 2011, pp. 8).
So, what do we mean by active ageing? Box 1 provides a formal definition of active ageing, which comes from WHO’s Ageing and Life Course Programme, included in the document to the 2nd World Assembly on Ageing, Madrid, April 2002 (World Health Organisation, 2002).

Box 1: What do we mean by active ageing?
Active ageing is a widely discussed concept but a relatively recent concept. Its most widely quoted definition comes from World Health Organisation’s Ageing and Life Course Programme which was included in the document contributed to the Second UN World Assembly on Ageing, held in Madrid, April 2002. The definition is stated as:
‘Active ageing is the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age’ (World Health Organisation, 2002, pp. 12).
Here, it is useful to further elaborate the keywords used in this definition: ‘active’, and ‘health’.
• Activity implies a ‘continuing participation [of older people] in social, economic, cultural, spiritual and civic affairs, [and] not just the ability to be physically active or to participate in the labour force’ (ibid, pp. 12).
• Following the same spirit of multidimensionality and by adopting a wider perspective, the term health ‘refers to physical, mental and social well being’ (ibid, pp. 12).
Thus, following the WHO definition, the public discourse on active ageing is geared towards greater opportunities for a labour market engagement and also active contributions towards unpaid work that is productive for individuals concerned as well as for the societies in which they live. Also, the health maintenance activities are included, and they point not just to the physical health but also to mental health and social connections as well.

Referring to the WHO’s definition, activity is emphasised in this paper, but not whether the objective of enhancing the quality of life of those involved is also achieved. The issue of whether the implications of active ageing are realised on the size and shape of public finances (in improving the tax and social contribution revenues and thus making the public welfare system financially sustainable) is also not covered here.
The present paper is, therefore, geared towards providing empirical evidence on active ageing across EU member States using the most suitable comparative dataset available: the Harmonised European Time Use Surveys (HETUS); the Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe (SHARE); and the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS). Two aspects are covered: the formal labour market engagement of older workers and the nature of non-paid productive activities. It analyses variations across countries (so as to explore the extent to which country differences could be associated with differences in public policies and institutions), and between subgroups of individuals (so as to analyse the differential experiences of ageing for those who differ in their needs and aspirations, on the basis of age, gender and employment status as well as marital status, living arrangements and educational attainment).
The rest of the paper is organised in five sections. Section 1 provides a brief review of selected literature on active ageing, especially from the recent past. Section 2 gives an overview of allocation of time between paid work and various forms of unpaid work of men and women across the life course in 14 European countries. Section 3 provides more details on patterns of unpaid work of older people. Section 4 focuses on analysing the patterns of labour market involvement of older workers across all 27 EU countries. Section 5 provides some policy conclusions. Results for the time allocated to paid and unpaid work are drawn mainly from the HETUS. These results are supplemented by those derived from the SHARE, for voluntary work. Data on trends and patterns of labour market engagement are derived from the EU-LFS.

 1. Literature review
The policies to promote active ageing have been presented as a potential panacea for the challenges of population ageing faced by the European societies. These policies are deemed particularly relevant in extending working lives as they will contribute in resolving the financial sustainability challenges of public social welfare systems. These policies are also expected to contribute towards avoiding the conflict between generations that many argue will result from the demographic shift that our societies are experiencing (Hamblin 2010; and Zaidi, Gasior and Manchin 2012). Most relevant aspect is that the life expectancy gains should be accompanied by labour market active years added to life. Thus, the length of time people spend in retirement relative to time spent in paid employment will not rise dramatically – on average in the EU the duration of retirement has gone in excess of 50% of the working lives.
It is clear that an exit from the labour market for retirement is not necessarily associated with reduced levels of productive activities for most people (see, for arguments, Walker and Naegele 1999). The life post-retirement is therefore seen increasingly by many as the third active stage in their life course, after education and work – therefore the term ‘troisième âge’ was conceived in France to apply to this period of relative good health and social participation (Guillemard and Rein 1993).
The origin of the term active ageing is most likely be the literature on “successful ageing” in the USA during the 1960s, defining it as “denying the onset of old age and by replacing those relationships, activities and roles of middle age that are lost with new ones in order to maintain activities and life satisfaction” (Walker 2002: 122). Walker (2002) goes on to argue that the same concept was reframed in the 1980s to “productive ageing”, and it shifted emphasis from older ages only to the whole life course. Also, the evolution of productive ageing into active ageing happened in the 1990s with the WHO creating the link between activity and health, as well as acknowledging that retirement is a period characterised by productive activities (other than formal engagement with the labour market), such as volunteering and caring for children and other adult family members (Guillemard and Rein 1993; Künemund and Kolland 2007).
Population ageing became more apparent as a European policy issue in the early 1990s when a European observatory was established to study the impact of public policies on ageing and older people (as mentioned in Walker 2010). Earlier, among others, the Four Pillars Programme of the Geneva Association was set up in 1987, with the aim of studying the future of pensions, welfare and employment. In the early 1990s, the European Year of Older People in 1993 is a significant occasion when a policy discourse on active ageing was promoted at the European level (Walker 1993). The next major milestone was 1999, the UN Year of Older People. The reference to active ageing in EU/EC documents (Commission of the European Communities 1999) makes a notable mention of early retirement as a constrained decision for older workers: “over the working lifetime, risk of marginalisation and eventual exclusion from the labour market grows. In the end, older workers often find that early retirement is the only choice left to them” (Ibid, pp. 10). Thus, as proposed there, an emphasis was placed on enhancing the employability of older workers and also on adapting employment protection regulations to suit an ageing workforce.
Since 1999, active ageing has featured often in many EU/EC documents. More often than not, the goal of active ageing has been seen as extending working lives and discouraging early retirement. For instance, this focus on enhancing labour market participation of older workers is reflected in two EU targets:
•  The 2001 Stockholm target to ensure half of those in the age group 55-64 were in employment by 2010, and
•  The 2002 Barcelona target to increase the average age of exit from the labour market (for retirement) by five years by the same year.
While, to this day, none of the EU countries has managed to achieve the Barcelona target, Germany, Ireland, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Finland did raise the employment rate for the age group 55-64 to over the 50% threshold by 2010 (in Sweden, Denmark, Portugal and the UK the employment rate of this age group was already above 50% in 2001 when the target was set).
The 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) and its European Regional Implementation Strategy (RIS) gave further prominence to active ageing as a strategic policy response to population trends and to a vision of society for all ages (United Nations 2002).
More recently, active ageing is referred to in Europe 2020 – A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, which specifically highlights the importance of meeting “the challenge of promoting a healthy and active ageing population to allow for social cohesion and higher productivity” (Commission of the European Communities 2010:18). In line with Europe 2020, the European Employment Strategy promotes policies and measures targeted at older persons to support longer working lives.
EU documents also acknowledge wider forms of activities under the policy agenda of active ageing, such as lifelong learning, being active in unpaid productive activities after retirement (such as volunteering), and also engaging in health sustaining activities (Commission of the European Communities 2002). As part of the broader Europe 2020 strategy, the European Innovation Partnership for active and healthy ageing, for instance, focuses on prevention, health promotion and integrated care, as well as on active and autonomous living for older people. Its overarching goal is to raise average healthy life expectancy at birth in the European Union by 2 years by 2020 (Commission of the European Communities, 2011, pp. 12).
In September 2011, the European Union designated 2012 as the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations (Decision 940/2011/EU). The main goal of the European Year 2012 is to raise awareness of the value of active ageing, highlighting the useful contribution older people make to society and the economy, to identify and disseminate good practices, and to encourage policy makers and stakeholders at all levels to promote active ageing.

2. Time allocation between paid and unpaid activities
This section provides an overview of how older Europeans allocate their time between paid and unpaid activities, including a breakdown across different types of unpaid activities, such as personal care, housework, unpaid work (e.g. childcare) and active leisure (e.g. sports and outdoor activities and travel). Results analysed in this section are for 14 EU countries, and the analyses shed light on the varying extent of active ageing observed for men and women living in European countries.
Results are drawn from the Harmonised European Time Use Survey (HETUS) Database, which is a representative sample of individuals who completed a diary during at least one weekday and one weekend day distributed over the whole year. They are reported in terms of ‘average minutes spent on an activity in a single day’. The average estimated is for the group in question, and by using an average of time use patterns reported across the whole year.

2.1 Time use patterns by gender and age
Figure 1 provides an overview of how people use their time and shows the variations in the pattern of time use by gender as well as by age, so as to identify older adults’ behaviours in a life-cycle perspective. These results show that when paid work declines with age, a greater part of the day is normally spent on the unpaid activities of personal care and in passive leisure. For women, a larger amount of time is spent in domestic work, especially in age group 65-74 – this finding is consistent with the economic theory that, because of their lower income and lower opportunity cost of time, retirees spend more time doing household productive activities, such as food preparation, laundry and ironing and other domestic work (see, e.g. Krantz-Kent and Stewart 2007).

Figure 1: Time use by age and gender (mean hours per day), average for 14 EU member States

Source: Calculations drawn from the Harmonised European Time Use Surveys (HETUS).
– Personal care: Eating and Sleeping; (2) Paid Work: Activities related to main and second job, and education and training as well as their travel; (3) Housework: Domestic work and shopping; (4) Unpaid work: Childcare and other informal help; participatory activities, etc. (5) Social leisure: Visits and feasts, and other social life; (6) Active leisure: Walking and other outdoor activities, entertainment and culture, sports activities, reading and travel and other hobbies; (7) Passive leisure: Resting, TV and video, Radio and music. These seven main categories of activities are derived from 49 harmonised categories which are consistent across the surveys.
– Data used comes from diaries of daily activities of respondents, collected as part of time use surveys in 14 EU member States. The survey methods used have been harmonised based on the Guidelines on Harmonized European Time Use Surveys, published in 2008. Therefore, the results are considered to be comparable. There are certain exceptions to this, and they are pointed out in the text.

2.2 Time use patterns of older Europeans
Tables 1 and 2 provide detailed country-specific results for the two older age groups (55-64 and 65-74), further subdivided by gender. Within the age group 55-64, men in Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and Spain spend the most time on paid work, over 4 hours per day, around twice as much as Belgian and Slovenian men. The same pattern can be observed for women in these countries with the exception of Spanish women. Such gender differences in paid work are similarly large in Italy, Belgium and Slovenia. On the other hand, women in these countries spend more than 5 hours per day on housework activities, a finding consistent across the two age groups.
A marked difference between the old and new EU member States emerges when looking at the number of hours spent on paid work among those aged 65-74: Eastern European men and women devote more time to paid work than those in the old member States. The difference ranges from more than 2 hours between Latvian and French men to 18 minutes between Polish and Finnish women. Bulgaria is the only new member country where the pattern of time use regarding paid work shows more similarity to that of the old EU countries.

While older people in Germany and Sweden spend relatively much time (more than 3 hours per day) on active leisure, the amount of time allocated to passive leisure activities, such as watching TV or listening to the radio, is largest for Belgian, Estonian and Finnish men and women. Bulgarian and French older men and women devote the most time (over 12 hours) to personal activities (sleeping, eating and other personal care).

Table 1: Time use patterns of older Europeans (for age group 55-64), on an average day, 24 hours

Table 2: Time use patterns of older Europeans (for age group 65-74), on an average day, 24 hours

Source: Calculations for both Table 1 and 2 are drawn from the Harmonised European Time Use Surveys (HETUS); for further explanatory notes, see notes of Figure 1. Bold and bold italics indicate highest and lowest values for each activity.

3. Patterns of unpaid work among older Europeans

3.1 Time use patterns by employment status
In this section, we analyse further the time allocation of European older persons into various forms of unpaid activities. We start with an examination of whether there are any differences across full-time and part-time employed and non-employed older persons, in the time allocated to various forms of productive non-market activities such as housework (domestic work and shopping) and unpaid work (childcare and other informal help; participatory activities, etc). Tables 3 and 4 report these results for the age group 45-642 on the time allocation of an average 24 hours day, using the same categorisation as used in Figure 1.
For the age group 45-64, the results can be summarised as:
For the age group 45-64, the results can be summarised as:
• Examining full-time and part-time employed separately, differences in the time spent on paid work between those working full-time and the part-time employed varied by about 2-3 hours per day for this age group (in most countries). This difference in hours spent in paid work between full-time and part-time workers is larger for men than for women in most countries (except in France and Spain).
• Time spent doing housework almost doubled (from around 2 hours per day to around 4 hours per day) when older people worked part-time instead of full-time (in Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden and the UK). Thus, it can be said that the increase in housework more or less compensated for less time spent in paid work. This effect is more pronounced for men than for women, (with the exception of Finland, France and Sweden), but this is due to the fact that even among the full-time employed, women spend considerably more time doing housework than men. Thus, for housework, the variation across types of employment mainly captures gender differences.
• For unpaid work, there is relatively little variation in the amount of time by employment status. In the majority of countries, it is the non-employed who tend to spend more time on unpaid work with Polish men and women devoting the largest amount of time (0.9 and 1.2 hours respectively) to these activities. Although the differences between full-time and part-time employed, and between full-time employed and non-employed remain very small (8 and 15 minutes on average), some countries, such as Poland, Finland and the three Baltic States, display larger variations in the time spent on unpaid work across the three employment groups for both men and women.
The notable differences are observed (in most cases) in the time spent on leisure activities: time spent on leisure activities is generally higher among non-working older Europeans than that observed for part-time workers.

Table 3: Time use patterns of men aged 45-64 by employment status (mean hours per day)

See the footnote of Table 2 for source and explanatory notes.

Table 4: Time use patterns of women aged 45-64 by employment status (mean hours per day)

See the footnote of Table 2 for source and explanatory notes.

Asghar Zaidi is Director of Research at European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, Vienna, and also visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), London School of Economics.
Eszter Zolyomi is a Researcher and Project Coordinator of MA:IMI (Mainstreaming Ageing: Indicators to Monitor Implementation), also at the European Centre Vienna. This paper was financed by and prepared for the use of the European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of the European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. Neither the Commission nor any person acting on its behalf is responsible for the use that might be made of the information contained in this publication. Authors are grateful for comments received from Terry Ward towards and also in providing us detailed results from the Labour Force Survey.
1 For example, in Italy, the natural population change (the gap between live births and deaths) during 2010-2011 reduced population by 25,500, whereas the total population (including net migration) increased by almost 300,000 (Marcu 2011, pp. 2).
2 A different age group category is used here, mainly to ensure that the cell size for subgroup results is not too small.

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