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Survey of health, ageing and retirement in Europe

This study explores the social, economic and health experiences of people throughout Europe as they grow older.

SHARE is an ongoing study that provides data on the life circumstances of about 22,000 people aged 50 and over in 11 European countries. Findings have already been revealed by the baseline survey, carried out in 2004. These first results appear in Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, April 2005.

Across the European Union (EU) each year billions of euros are received as pensions. Who pays these pensions? Is the amount sufficient for the needs of older people and what do they do with it? In the south, many older people live in close proximity to their children and grandchildren and in the north, many live in institutions. How does this affect their giving and receiving social support, their health and functioning and their quality of life?

All of these questiosn will become more important and the search for answers more urgent as the birth rate declines and life expectancy increases and a much higher proportion of Europeans become dependent on a smaller number of economically active adults. Data from SHARE covers the full range of topics necessary to understand the economic, social, psychological and health elements of the ageing process across Europe. SHARE is intended to be complimentary to similar studies currently underway in England (the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing – ELSA) and the US (the Health and Retirement Study – HRS).

Approximately 1,500 households in each of the participating countries have been randomly recruited to the study via registries of households or address lists. As a result, some 22,000 interviews were carried out with people aged 50 or over in 2004. Participants were interviewed with the help of a survey questionnaire, designed in English and then translated into the languages of each country. The questionnaire asked for information about people’s health, current economic situation and plans for future economic well-being, support and demands of family and social networks. Data on the cognitive and physical ability of each participant was also recorded through direct measurement of memory, everyday maths skills, hand grip strength and walking speed.

Baseline interviews have taken place in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. A separately-funded study has been completed in Israel using the same measures. An English comparable sample is provided by ELSA. New samples will be added in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The project co-ordinator is Professor Axel Börsch-Supan, director of the Mannheim Research Institute for the Economics of Ageing in Mannheim, Germany. The scientific team includes some 120 researchers in epidemiology, economics, psychology and sociology from participating European countries.

The UK team and SHARE’s Working Group on Mental Health and Psychological Status is led by Professor Martin Prince.

The European Commission’s Research Directorate has funded most of the study. Other funding is from the US National Institute on Aging, the Austrian Science Fund, the Belgian Science Policy Office and the Swiss Federal Office of Education and Science.


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