Disability statistics - health
- Data extracted in September 2014. Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update:December 2018
This article provides information on persons who are facing health problems or difficulties in basic activities. It gives an overview of the various types of longstanding health problems and basic activity difficulties reported by respondents aged 15-64 in 31 countries (the EU-28 Member States, Turkey, Iceland, and Switzerland).
The article is part of an online publication on Disability based on data from the 2011 ad-hoc module of the EU Labour force survey. Data from this ad-hoc module refer to 2011 and updated figures are not available. It should however be noted that the socio-demographic information described in this article is structural and does not change significantly from year to year.
The 2011 ad-hoc module aimed at implementing, as far as possible, the definition of disability set out in the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF, WHO, 2001), also called the biopsychosocial model. In this model, people with disabilities are defined as those who face barriers to participating in any life activity areas, as a result of a health condition or a basic activity difficulty.
The proportion of people with a longstanding health problem or a basic activity difficulty is measured against the total number of people surveyed in the 2011 module, who were aged between 15 and 64. In this article, ‘the population’ refers to people in this age group. Prevalence is expressed as a percentage or as the number of cases per 100 people.
- 1 Main statistical findings
- 1.1 28 % affected by a longstanding health problem and/or a basic activity difficulty
- 1.2 Multiple problems are most common among 55-64-year-olds
- 1.3 8% of people in the EU had back or neck problems
- 1.4 Men more affected by diabetes and blood circulation problems, women by severe headaches
- 1.5 Severe headaches and depression are not age-related
- 1.6 Basic activity difficulties: Lifting and carrying difficulties affected affected 5 % of people in the EU
- 1.7 Hearing problems more often reported by men
- 1.8 Remembering and concentrating: a concern for younger people
- 2 Data sources and availability
- 3 Context
- 4 See also
- 5 Further Eurostat information
- 6 External links
Main statistical findings
28 % affected by a longstanding health problem and/or a basic activity difficulty
Approximately 28 % of people aged 15-64 in the EU reported a longstanding health problem or a basic activity difficulty, or both. This varied by country, ranging from 14 % in Greece and Ireland to over 50 % in France and Finland.
A relatively small number of people report having difficulty with basic activities: under 2 % of the population in three-quarters of the countries in 2011. Austria and Luxembourg had the highest percentage of people reporting these difficulties, at 5 % and 4 % (see Figure 1). Conversely, longstanding health problems are far more frequent in the EU as a whole (14% of the population), ranging from a comparatively low 4 % in the Netherlands to a considerable 34 % in Finland. People in Finland and France had a relatively high proportion (approx. 20 %) of people aged 15-64 reporting both a longstanding health problem and difficulties with basic activities (which may be interrelated), while Ireland and Malta had a small proportion of people with these difficulties, at approx. 5 %.
Multiple problems are most common among 55-64-year-olds
As expected, the proportion of people who report a longstanding health problem and/or a basic activity difficulty increases with age. While 87 % of 15-24-year-olds in the EU reported no health-related or activity problems, this proportion gradually decreased to 50 % of 55-64-year-olds.
The proportion of people who reported multiple problems, i.e. a longstanding health problem combined with a basic activity difficulty, increased with age in the EU, from 3 % of 15-24-year-olds to 27 % of 55-64-year-olds. In all age groups under 55, the most common report was of a longstanding health problem alone.
A slightly higher proportion of women in the sample as a whole reported a longstanding health problem, difficulties with basic activities, or both (30 % of women against 27 % for men). The largest gender difference was in those who reported both longstanding health problems and a basic activity difficulty with 13 % of women in this group compared to 11 % of men.
8% of people in the EU had back or neck problems
The most frequently reported longstanding health problem was a problem with the back or neck (about 8 %). Less than 2 % of people reported suffering from depression, diabetes or severe headaches (see Figure 3).
However, this pattern varies significantly across countries. While a problem with the back and neck (which includes arthritis or rheumatism) was the most frequent longstanding health problem reported in a majority of countries (20 out of 31 countries — including in particular a fifth of the population in Finland, France and Austria), problems linked to the heart, blood pressure or circulation were most often reported in the other 11 countries.
Among the less frequently reported categories, “chest or breathing problems (including asthma and bronchitis)”, ”problems with arms or hands” as well as “problems with legs and feet (including arthritis or rheumatism)” were most reported in Finland (7 %, 9 % and 11 %respectively) while the highest prevalence of diabetes was in Malta (3 %) and Turkey (4 %). More people reported depression in Portugal and Finland (both 3 %) than the EU average of 1.4 %.
Men more affected by diabetes and blood circulation problems, women by severe headaches
There appear to be gender differences in certain health issues: more women report all types of longstanding health problems except “diabetes” and “heart, blood pressure or circulation problems”. ”Chest or breathing problems (including asthma and bronchitis)” affects both genders equally. In the EU, the largest gender gap is seen among those reporting “severe headaches”, (1.0 % of men, but 2.6 % of women) and “problems with arms or hands” (2.4 % of men and 3.7 % of women).
The frequency of most longstanding health problems increases with age. A very clear correlation with increasing age is seen with “back and neck problems” and, to a lesser degree, with “problems with legs or feet” and “arms or hands” (see Figure 5).
Problems with “heart, blood pressure or circulation problems” and “diabetes” rapidly increase in the 55-64 age group, too. However, longstanding “severe headaches“ were mostly reported by people aged 35 to 44 with a smaller percentage of the two older age groups reporting this issue. Similarly, the highest proportion of people reporting “depression” were aged 45-54.
Among 15-24-year-olds, “chest or breathing problems (including asthma and bronchitis)” and “back or neck problems” were most frequently reported (2.2 % of respondents each).
Basic activity difficulties: Lifting and carrying difficulties affected affected 5 % of people in the EU
Fewer people report difficulties in basic activities than report longstanding health problems. "Back and neck problems" were the most frequently reported longstanding health problem, and 5 % of people aged 15-64 in the EU as a whole reported having a problem with "lifting and carrying", with national levels ranging from 1 % in Ireland to 11 % in Latvia.
The second most frequently reported difficulty was in “walking and climbing steps”. Levels varied among EU countries from 2 % in Ireland to 7 % in Luxembourg, compared to 4 % in the EU as a whole. Beyond the EU borders, 10 % of people in Turkey reported these difficulties.
There were some national variations: in France, difficulties with “sitting or standing” were the most frequently reported (6 %), while for Romania difficulties with “seeing, even if wearing glasses” were the most common (4 %). Although they were infrequent in the EU as a whole, France saw relatively high levels of difficulties with “hearing, even if using a hearing aid” (5 %), Iceland reported relatively high levels of difficulties with “remembering and concentrating” (5 %) and Estonia had relatively high levels of difficulties with “seeing, even if wearing glasses” (5 %).
Hearing problems more often reported by men
The overall picture of gender differences appears clearer for difficulties in basic activities than for longstanding health problems. With the exception of problems with “hearing, even if using a hearing aid”, more women reported each of the difficulties in basic activities in the survey. The highest gender gap was for difficulties in “lifting and carrying”, with a difference of 1 percentage point.
Remembering and concentrating: a concern for younger people
The number of people reporting difficulties in basic activities also increases with age, with a larger increase in the two oldest age groups. Although “remembering and concentrating” is a smaller problem in absolute terms, it appears to be a particular issue among young people: 1.3 % of 15-24 year olds report this issue, slightly more than the 1.2 % of 25-34 years olds who reported the same problem.
Data sources and availability
The main data source used for this publication is the EU Labour Force Survey. This is a quarterly, large sample survey providing results for the population living in private households in the EU, Turkey, Iceland, and Switzerland.
In 2002 and 2011, the survey included an ad-hoc module on the employment situation of people with disabilities. This was designed to provide information on the labour-market situation of people with disabilities, compared to those without disabilities.
There is considerable demand for statistics on disability at EU level, deriving especially as a result of the European Disability Strategy (2010-2020). The European Commission is bringing together information on disability collected through EU surveys, developing a specific survey on barriers to social integration for people with disabilities and identifying a set of indicators to monitor the situation for people with disabilities in relation to the key Europe 2020 targets for education, employment and poverty reduction. The 2011 Labour Force Survey ad hoc module helps provide a clearer picture of employment for people with disabilities and helps monitor the gaps in education and employment.
Articles related to disability statistics
- Disability statistics - labour market access
- Disability statistics - employment patterns
- Disability statistics - barriers to employment
- Disability statistics - need for assistance
- Disability statistics - access to education and training
Further Eurostat information
- Employment of disabled people — Statistical analysis of the 2011 Labour Force Survey ad hoc module – 2015 edition
- Health (hlth), see:
- Disability (hlth_dsb)
- Prevalence of disability (source LFS) (hlth_dsb_prv)
- Health, see:
Methodology / Metadata
- Disability statistics background - Labour force survey - non-response analysis
- Disability statistics background - Labour force survey - proxy analysis
- Prevalence of disability (source LFS) (ESMS metadata file — hlth_dsb_prv_esms)
- Commission Regulation (EU) No 317/2010 of 16 April 2010 adopting the specifications of the 2011 ad hoc module on employment of disabled people for the labour force sample survey provided for by Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98