According to Eurostat demography forecasts, the population of Europe is rapidly growing. The details of demographic research results clearly show that within the increasing group of elderly people, ageing is also a characteristic tendency. As for the gender distribution of the elderly, the number of females are increasing with age, and in developed societies, where the standard of living is higher, the ratio of elderly people is growing within the population.
The process of ageing in Europe is not limited to certain geographical areas or regions. In the welfare societies of the northern and western member states, the tendencies of population ageing is very similar to the situation in eastern and southern Europe. The only exception is the unique social culture of the Mediterranean countries, where the elderly usually keep their leading role in the family regardless of their age, and therefore they are not likely to end up in a situation where they should take care of themselves. Based on the findings of previous European life quality studies, we can say that on average, the elderly in Europe are satisfied with their life circumstances.
On the other hand, in the member states on the eastern borders of the EU, senior people tend to evaluate their life quality lower than other European countries. Unfortunately, these are the same regions which are the most seriously affected by the migration of the younger generations. The migration of the young seems to be an unstoppable tendency in these areas, and therefore it is necessary to establish an innovative type of social network, taking into account the special characteristics and needs of the elderly living on the eastern borders of the EU. This novel approach, which would be based on the active inclusion of the elderly in the society, could largely contribute to the ‘mental revitalisation’ of the local senior citizens.
Happy ageing …
The majority of sustainable social developments are based on the high quality implementation of ideas conceived by the results of international research. Today’s terminology of international research literature practically uses life quality and well-being as synonyms. However, the recent challenges suggest that the results of previous research on the European elderly need to be redefined. We can only get a clear picture on the life quality of the elderly if the objective and subjective factors are analysed together, taking into account as many circumstances as possible. Beyond the general objective approach used in international senior research, a novel, subjective approach is also emerging.
In this new paradigm, the subjective elements are determined by factors that are typical of the examined social group. Within the frameworks of such a subjective life quality assessment research, the subjective factors – determined by the specific local circumstances – enable the self-reflective evaluation of the respondents’ satisfaction with their lives and circumstances.
In Hungary, there is a senior research programme in progress in southern Hungary, using a novel approach in analysing the processes in relation with ageing. According to the available statistical data, the region is home to the most active pensioners’ community in the country. Around half of the community is actively participating in different pensioners’ clubs. There are more than 20 pensioners’ clubs operating in the local area of the research. The research started in 2017, and the content analysis of the small group interviews and questionnaires are under review at the moment. The objective of the research is to analyse the different elements in relation with the objective and subjective assessment of life quality.
The results processed so far suggest that there is a clear social aspect determining the respondents’ assessment of their life quality: factors like family, friends, career and professional success, happy relationships, financial security, satisfactory environment and quality free time opportunities all play an important role in the self-reflective evaluation of life quality. The subjective factors in the assessment of life quality is reflected at multiple levels in the research data. During the interviews it turned out that the level of how much the respondent was satisfied with the single factors that are considered important in life quality assessment significantly impacted the positive acceptance of their subjective life quality. For example, the frequency of cultural activities showed significant differences, depending on the age group and level of income. Furthermore, the research revealed different results among the respondents who claimed to feel ‘unhappy’. The most frequently mentioned subjective negative factors were solitude, fear of existential insecurity and unhappiness.
Innovative solutions for the elderly
The cohesion policies and programmes of the EU recently under development could provide a much wider range of solutions for the local communities, provided that they were available in a format compatible for the participating groups, for example in the form of education and/or training. In the countries located on the Eastern border of the EU, despite the widespread availability of the internet, the level of digital literacy is still lagging behind, thus hindering local people’s access to information and up-to-date knowledge; this challenge is clearly an issue that will need innovative solutions in the near future.
The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy.