Academic journal article Population

Who Will Be Caring for Europe's Dependent Elders in 2030?

Academic journal article Population

Who Will Be Caring for Europe's Dependent Elders in 2030?

Article excerpt

Throughout Europe, the population of over-75s will increase rapidly up to 2030. And although most people grow old in good health, the risk of physical and psychological dependence rises with advancing age. Hence, as the European population grows older, the care needs of dependent persons will increase in parallel. As new sets of generations reach old age, the volume and nature of their needs are liable to change, however. The elders of tomorrow will differ in many ways from those of today, in terms of health, marital status, living arrangements, etc., and these differences will reshape the future management of dependence. The numerical increase in the elderly population is not the only factor involved.

The type of assistance received by older people is closely linked to the type of household in which they live and, more broadly, their family environment. Spouses and children are the primary carers of dependent elders (Chappell, 1991; Walker et al., 1993), but when family members are absent or unavailable, demand for professional care increases. Indeed, dependent seniors living alone more often receive professional assistance than those living with a spouse or with other persons (Arber et al., 1988; Grundy, 2006; Martel and Légaré, 2001; Pickard et al., 2000). In France, for example, two-thirds of dependent elders living alone receive professional assistance, compared with half of those living with a spouse and 40% of those who share a dwelling with other family members (Breuil-Genier, 1998). Changes in the household structure of older people may thus modify their needs of assistance, with strong implications for policymakers. Such changes will also affect individual well-being. We know, for example, that persons living with a partner are better off financially, have a better state of health (Glaser et al., 1997) and are more socially integrated than those without a partner (Delbès and Gaymu, 2003a; De Jong Gierveld et al., 1997).

The factors associated with the living arrangements(1) of older people have been widely studied (Pampel, 1992; Wolf, 1995; Palloni, 2001; Légaré and Martel, 2003; Tomassini et al., 2004; United Nations, 2005), and a very strong link between marital status and the household structure of older persons is observed. Practically all married seniors live with their spouse, while widows, widowers and divorcees, who have similar living arrangements, mostly live alone. Being more frequently widowed, women more often find themselves living alone, while men generally grow old with their spouse (United Nations, 2005; Delbès and Gaymu, 2006). Singles, for their part, are more likely to live in an institution (Dolinsky and Rosenwaike, 1988; Ricci, 1991; Grundy and Glaser, 1997; Carrière and Pelletier, 1995). Being in poor health or having no surviving children also have a major impact on living arrangements. They reduce residential autonomy and increase the likelihood of institutionalization (Angel and Himes, 1992; Soldo et al., 1990; Stinner et al., 1990; Désesquelles and Brouard, 2003). Last, research on the links between socioeconomic status and living arrangements shows that wealthier old people tend to cohabit less with family members and more often live alone (Pampel, 1992; Mc Garry and Schoeni, 2000).

The changes observed in recent decades have led to greater residential autonomy among older people. Across Europe, intergenerational coresidence is becoming less common, with elders more often preferring to stay in their own home, either alone or with their spouse (Michael et al., 1980; Murphy and Grundy, 1994; Ruggles, 2001). Many other contextual factors, such as growing urbanization, evolving family and social norms, development of home care services, etc. have contributed to this trend. These sociocultural aspects are key to explaining the geographical contrasts observed today (Iacovou, 2000; Glaser et al., 2004; Gaymu et al., 2006). In other words, Europeans with identical characteristics grow old in very different environments. …

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