02 Sep 2008

Social Exclusion of the Elderly

A Comparative Study of EU Member States

Gerda Jehoel-Gijsbers / Cok Vrooman

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European Network of Economic Policy Research Institutes (ENEPRI) Research Report No. 57 / 90 pages

Combating social exclusion is one of the key objectives of pension systems. This report focuses on social exclusion among the elderly (defined as the 55+ age group) in the EU’s member states. Social exclusion has been conceptualised as a state of individuals in relation to four dimensions. Two of these dimensions – material deprivation and social rights – are of a structural nature. The other two – social participation and normative integration – pertain to social settings and subcultural factors. Theoretically and empirically, the dimensions refer to one latent underlying social exclusion variable. The original method for measuring social exclusion was devised and tested for the Netherlands, making use of a dedicated dataset. In this study, the measuring instrument has been extended to EU member states, performing secondary analyses of various surveys.
These datasets do not contain information about normative integration, but for each of the other three dimensions it has turned out to be possible to construct valid indices at the EU level. Two indices that are more general have been calculated as well: one is a combined index of material deprivation plus social rights and the other is a macro aggregate covering all three dimensions.
The outcomes suggest that the elderly in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands are the least excluded, in terms of both the three separate dimensions of social exclusion and the more general indices. The Continental and Anglo-Saxon countries follow close behind. Social exclusion among the elderly is generally higher in the Mediterranean countries. The highest social exclusion scores are to be found in the EU’s new member states in Eastern Europe, especially in the Baltic States and Poland.
In all EU member states exclusion in terms of social participation increases as people grow older. Material deprivation shows the reverse pattern: in almost all countries, this form of social exclusion decreases with age. With regard to access to social rights – operationalised here in terms of adequate housing and access to medical/dental care – the picture is less straightforward. In nearly all Mediterranean and Eastern European countries, the elderly are more excluded than are the non-elderly in this respect. In the Nordic countries, Germany and the UK, the opposite occurs: access to social rights improves with rising age.
In all countries, poor health is an important factor increasing the risk of social exclusion across all dimensions. Household income has a strong effect on material deprivation and access to social rights in most countries. Age and gender cannot be considered serious risk factors for any of the dimensions of social exclusion after the impact of other variables has been controlled for. Multilevel analyses show that only a small part of the country variation in social exclusion (as measured by the combined index) can be attributed to differences in the composition of the population in connection with health, education level, age and gender. A larger part is related to country differences in household incomes. A further (albeit rather small) part has to do with specific traits at the country level. Elderly persons are less excluded if countries attain a higher level of national wealth, spend more on social protection, show less income inequality and generate higher life expectancy. Diverging institutional arrangements – as defined by a classification of countries by their social security and pension regimes – also explain some of the variation in social exclusion. After controlling for the impact of income inequality, however, this effect largely disappears. This result suggests that such regime types mainly influence social exclusion indirectly, through their effects on income inequality. The latter is the country trait with the highest unique contribution to social exclusion of the elderly in the EU.