Ageing societies afford more advantages to men than women – study

·5-min read

Men are afforded more advantages than women in ageing societies, an international study suggests.

The gender differences in societal ageing suggest men have better resources to help them cope with the challenges of ageing, researchers say.

The study is the first of its kind to investigate gender differences in the experience of people growing older across 18 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Different gender roles in society not only shape women’s and men’s lifetime opportunities, but also their experience of ageing, the research suggests.

According to the data, men are especially advantaged when it comes to income and wealth.

They are much more likely to be financially secure, be engaged in paid work, and spend fewer years in ill health than women in later life.

Worldwide, the number of people aged 65 years and older is expected to more than double in the next 30 years, rising from 703 million in 2019 to 1.5 billion in 2050.

Women in OECD countries have an average life expectancy more than three years longer than men, but they spend more years in poor health.

While most OECD countries have achieved universal health coverage, the disproportionately greater risk of disability and ill health in women increases their likelihood of needing long-term care, researchers found.

Women are more likely to live alone at the end of their lives, and also earn less than men.

Lead author Dr Cynthia Chen, from the National University of Singapore, said: “Ageing societies reinforce the prevailing gender norms in which men continue to be allocated the majority of opportunities, resources, and social support.

“With the world’s population ageing at an unprecedented rate, and the ratio of older women to older men expected to increase, there is an urgent need to challenge the structural and policy biases that favour men.”

Senior author Professor John Rowe, from Columbia University in America, added: “Stark income-based inequalities suggest ample room for improving women’s standing in paid work, job opportunities, and retirement income.

“Addressing these gender disparities will not only benefit society by increasing women’s long-term savings and old-age security, but may also enable women to live longer independently and in better health.

“And could have positive knock-on effects for the next generation by reducing the burden of unpaid informal caregiving by younger women.”

Researchers used the latest available data from the OECD and World Bank between 2015 and 2019 for 18 of the 35 OECD countries with sufficient data, to develop a gender-specific ageing index.

The new index accounts for five domains that capture social and economic factors affecting the quality of ageing.

These are wellbeing, productivity and engagement, equity, cohesion, and security.

Researchers calculated the overall index and individual domain scores (from 0 to 100) for men and women.

A higher score indicated a successfully ageing society.

The findings suggest gender differences in societal ageing favour men by an average of nine points over women.

Overall, countries in northern Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway), the Netherlands, and Japan did well for both genders with an overall index score of 66 or above for men vs 55 or above for women.

But countries in much of eastern and southern European were at the bottom of the rankings.

According to the study published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity journal, America’s overall performance was average (score 55 for men vs 47 for women), along with other industrialised western European nations, such as the UK (57 vs 47) and Germany (62 vs 51).

Countries with the biggest differences in scores between men and women were the Netherlands (overall index score of 70 for men vs 55 for women), and Austria (64 vs 51).

Poland (overall index score 32 for men vs 29 for women), Spain (55 vs 51), and Ireland (62 vs 56) had the smallest difference between men and women.

The findings reveal that differences between men and women were largest for societal integration, including social support and living with others.

In all 18 countries, men were more likely to have higher levels of productivity and engagement and financial and personal security than women, by an average of 10 points.

For all countries, older men had a 6% higher average work force participation rate and retired on average 1.7 years later than women.

Men aged 65 years and older earn on average 3,450 US Dollars more than women, had greater pension wealth, and are 15% more likely to report feeling safe walking alone at night, according to the study.

Gender differences in wellbeing and equity revealed a much smaller advantage for men, by an average of 1.5 and 3.5 points respectively.

The UK (wellbeing score 74 for men vs 61 for women) and Italy (73 vs 64) had the largest difference in wellbeing scores, with scores favouring men.

Western and northern Europe (Norway, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Belgium) ranked highest for equity for both genders.

But the USA and the UK performed more poorly, indicating growing inequality in the distribution of income and wealth.

The authors suggest four measures to help address gender bias and inequality in societal ageing, including assessing minimum income requirements for healthy living in older people and minimum pensions and income standards to remove barriers to health care.

They acknowledge that their findings show observational differences rather than evidence of cause and effect, and point out some limitations including that the study was cross-sectional and therefore could not identify trends over time.

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