The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) calls population ageing one of the biggest challenges of our century. While working age adults currently make up the largest share of the population in the UNECE region and percentages of dependent children and older adults are relatively small, this situation is changing rapidly. In Europe, there are now 4.4 persons of working age per one person 65 or older. By 2025, there will be 3.1 and by 2050 only 2.1. To help its member States make the appropriate policy responses, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is launching a series of Policy Briefs on Ageing. Drawn from the latest insights in research, the Briefs highlight strategies for policymakers and offer good practice examples for the variety of policy contexts found in the UNECE region.
Elderly women outnumber elderly men in all countries of the UNECE region. They are more likely to live in poverty and to be affected by disability and restrictions of mobility. They are more represented among those living in residential care and are at bigger risk of elderly abuse. Many elderly women are widows and at an economic disadvantage due to low incomes. To tailor adequate social policies to respond to an increasingly ageing society, it is important to take into account these gender differences.
Financial and social security of women and men in old age is connected to their current and previous participation in the labour market. Gender differences in socio-economic status are partially rooted in the traditional gender division of labour, where men bear the primary responsibility for breadwinning - that is, for paid work - and women for unpaid housework and family care. This has an impact on men’s and women’s ability to accumulate social security entitlements for their pension age.
Nevertheless, it is desirable that men and women are able to form their family and work lives during their working age period in the way that best suits their personal needs without risking their security in old age. To shape the political framework for gender equality throughout the life course, three strategies are important. The first is to enable and encourage women, and mothers in particular, to participate in the labour market and build careers in the same way as men do. Among others things, this would contribute to their social security entitlement in old age as well as to the current pay-as-you-go pensions system of their countries. Secondly, women who decide to take a career break due to caring responsibilities should nevertheless enjoy social security in old age. A gender-assessed pension system would need to compensate for this. Thirdly, it should be acknowledged that support from family members traditionally plays an important role in the care of older persons and can often be the most desirable form of such care for those involved. Therefore, working-age family members need to have the opportunity of assistance when undertaking such caring tasks.