Educated and healthy older people are more active

A recent study in Estonia investigated how educational achievement affected the lives of older people aged 50–74, particularly their financial situation and their health. The results showed that the more educated a person is, the better their health and the more actively they take part in different areas of life, and the more ready they are to continue working after retirement age. It was also revealed that a person’s interest in continuing to work grows as they get older.

About the study

The Ministry of Social Affairs conducted a wide-ranging study on ageing (in Estonian, 503 Kb PDF) in cooperation with GfK Custom Research Baltic. They questioned 1,004 people aged 50–74 about their financial situation, activity and quality of life and assessed their findings in the light of the respondents’ educational level. The findings may be useful to those responsible for developing policies to promote and enhance active ageing.

Impact of education

The results of the study indicated that among older people, their health and financial situation were related to their educational background. Results showed that:

  • 39% of older people with higher education assessed their health to be good or very good;
  • 34% of those with secondary education assessed their health to be good or very good;
  • 14% of those with primary education assessed their health to be good or very good.

Educational achievement was also found to affect a person’s financial situation:

  • 42% of people with higher education said they had enough money to live on and 48% had savings;
  • for those with secondary education the figures were 43% and 39%.

The study also showed that those with higher education take part in training more often than those with lower education. For example, 37% of people with higher education take part in various events such as conferences and workshops, compared to only 13% of those with primary education and 15% with secondary education.

Higher education also indicates greater working activity for the 50–74 age bracket. Among those people who are still working, both below and above retirement age, the proportion who had been through higher education was greater than that among the unemployed and retired:

  • 39% of those still working before retirement age have higher education;
  • 46% of those working after retirement age have higher education;
  • 23% of the unemployed and 30% of the retired and not working have higher education.

Volunteering levels are also higher among the better educated group. For example, 28% of those with higher education had done some form of voluntary work compared to only 19% of those with secondary education and 14% with primary education. Overall, 56% of people aged 50–74 are engaged in some form of volunteering activity.

Working life in older age

According to the survey, employment in older age is more common among higher-ranking positions. For instance, 17% of those who are still of working age and 24% of those who have reached retirement age continue working as professionals. Most of the working elderly say they work almost full time, with 66% working 31–40 hours a week and 18% working longer.

The study also showed that the desire to work once retired grows with a persons’ age, as the share of people aged 55–59 who wanted to work after retirement age was 50%, compared to only 27% among those aged 50–54.

The share of people with higher education and those who estimated their current health as good or very good was higher among those who were willing to work after retirement age. This indicates that good education and health are important for living an active life in old age. Bad health (disease, injury or disability) was the main reason unemployed people of working age were not working, or was the reason given for not returning to work.

Two-thirds of the unemployed of working age and 47% of retired people who would like to return to work stated that they are ready to work full time (31–40 hours a week).

Social activity and satisfaction with life

Most people aged 50–74 stated that they have time to take up pursuits they are interested in and enough energy to deal with everyday activities. Bad health is the only factor that has a significant impact on a person’s ability to cope with everyday activities, compared to other factors such as education, gender or employment status.

Most people aged 50–74 prefer to spend their spare time at home reading or doing handicraft. Outside the home, older people mostly enjoy spending their free time at concerts, theatres or visiting friends and family, although many of them stated that they would like to do it more often. Overall, most people aged 50–74 were satisfied with their life and relationships with colleagues and family, but said they could contribute more and should be more involved in decision-making processes in society.

Liina Osila and Kirsti Nurmela, PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies

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