To mark the start of the 2012 European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity of Generations, the Commission presented today a new Eurobarometer survey showing that 71% of Europeans are aware that Europe's population is getting older, but only 42% are concerned about this development.
This is in stark contrast with the perceptions of policy makers, who regard demographic ageing as a major challenge. For most citizens, people aged 55 years and older play a major role in key areas of society. Over 60% believe that we should be allowed to continue working after retirement age and one third says that they would like to work longer themselves. Surprisingly, people closer to retirement are more likely to share this view than the younger generation.
The Eurobarometer survey covers five areas: overall perceptions of age and older people; older people in the workplace; retirement and pensions; voluntary work and support for older people and an age-friendly environment.
The survey shows how definitions of 'young' and 'old' differ significantly across countries. In Malta, Portugal and Sweden, people under 37 years are considered young, whereas in Cyprus and Greece people are considered young up to the age of 50. On average, Europeans believe that we start being regarded as old just before 64 and are no longer considered young from the age of 41.8 years. Perceptions also vary with age and sex – women feel that old age begins slightly later than men (65.0 years versus 62.7 years respectively).
In terms of having a job, only one in three Europeans agrees with the idea that the official retirement age will have to be increased by 2030, even though this is now a clear policy priority in many Member States. However, there is strong support (61%) for the idea that people should be allowed to continue working once they have reached the official retirement age. 53% reject the idea of a compulsory retirement age, but there are huge differences across Member States.
Although the typical pensionable age is 65 years, the average exit age from the labour force in 2009 was about 61.5 years. 42% of Europeans believe that they will be capable of doing the work they are currently doing beyond the age of 65, while 17% expect that they will not be able to carry on in their current job until they are 60. One third of Europeans say that they would like to continue working after they reach retirement age, and the idea of combining a part-time job and a partial pension is more appealing than full retirement to almost two thirds of Europeans.
Active ageing is not just about employment. Around one quarter of Europeans (including those over 55) say they are engaged in voluntary work. In countries where there is less of a volunteering tradition, a higher proportion of people say that they have helped or provided support to other people outside their own household. 36% of Europeans over the age of 55 have provided such support. 15% of respondents over 55 take care of an older family member and 42% have done so in the past.