Gender and social class inequalities in active ageing

Policy meets theory



Stefania Ilinca


Stefania Ilinca, Ricardo Rodrigues, Eszter Z├│lyomi, Andrea E. Schmidt


Active ageing, defined by the WHO as the “process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age”, crucially depends on opportunities and resources that are available to individuals throughout their life course. Therefore, some population groups face higher barriers than others in benefiting from gains in ‘active ageing’. In particular, research evidence is accumulating on the contribution of gender and social class divides to limiting one’s potential for opportunities in old age. However, while active ageing has gained significant salience for both policy and research the issue of socio-economic inequalities in the ability to actively age has received little attention.


Taking a critical look at existing evaluations of active ageing policies, the project investigated the links between the unequal distribution of resources needed to lead a fulfilling life (e.g. health, education, social inclusion) and active ageing achievement in European countries. We considered potential gaps along the lines of gender and socio-economic conditions with the aim to provide an extended framework for analysis, incorporating but going beyond the principles basing the Active Ageing Index.


A combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods was used during the project. A comprehensive review of the literature on inequalities in old age and expert interviews based the development of the theoretical farmework. The quantitative analysis relied on a combination of conventional active ageing indicators (e.g. social participation in old age) and life-course indicators (e.g. previous unemployment experiences) extracted from international databases and used to analyse differences in the experience of ageing for men and women, and for different socio-economic groups. Extensive desk research and expert interviews helped to enrich the empirical analysis with four in-depth country case studies.


Our analysis has uncovered significant and widespread socio-economic and gender inequalities in active ageing and in the several forms of capital needed to actively age (e.g. health, education). As a consequence, not all population groups will enjoy equal opportunities for active and healthy ageing nor will they have equally satisfying ageing experiences. Therefore, if Western societies are to allow all groups of older people, regardless of gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status, to ‘actively age’ in line with their own preferences, and to grow old in dignity, ‘active ageing’ policies will have to address the distribution of key social resources within older cohorts.

The European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research supports the Sustainable Development Goals

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