New vistas for survey charting Europe's topography of age
If you want to know how Europeans experience retirement and age, why not ask them? A research infrastructure named SHARE has been doing just that, collecting a wealth of data for studies that produce invaluable insights for policymakers. An EU-funded project has expanded the scope of this biennial survey.
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Health, healthcare, social networks, activities, income and finances: the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) has been putting Europe’s elders under the microscope since a first wave of interviews conducted in 2004. Since then, new rounds have been organised every other year across a growing number of countries, and SHARE has become established as a dedicated European research infrastructure with its own legal identity.
SHARE data is used by scientists to analyse how individuals and populations age and to assess current policies in the light of sound evidence.
The EU-funded project SHARE-DEV3 is supporting the latest extension of the survey’s geographic coverage. It has also enabled the SHARE consortium to upgrade the IT programs and database on which the survey relies and create new content for the seventh wave of interviews, which was conducted in 2017 and involved 28 countries.
‘It has helped ensure the successful preparation and implementation of data collection in all continental Member States of the European Union as well as Switzerland and Israel,’ says SHARE director Axel Börsch-Supan of the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging.
About 80 000 interviews were carried out as part of this wave, increasing the total number of interviews since the beginning of the survey to some 380 000. Respondents are aged 50 and over.
Crucially, along with responses to the regular SHARE questionnaire, wave 7 collected internationally comparable life-course data on health and socio-economic circumstances, Börsch-Supan points out. This additional input has greatly enhanced the data collected in the three preceding waves, complementing the life-history information already contributed by 20 000 respondents in wave 3, he adds.
The SHARE survey documents faces of age through snapshots taken at two-year intervals. Initially encompassing 12 countries, it now covers more than twice as many including a number of European states that might not have participated without the support provided by SHARE-DEV3, Börsch-Supan explains.
The SHARE database is interoperable with those of surveys conducted at national level in Ireland and the United Kingdom, with which it forms a pan-European picture, he adds.
So far, some 9 000 researchers from around the world have registered for access to the data, for studies that tend to capitalise on the survey’s cross-national scope or its compatibility with similar efforts abroad, Börsch-Supan notes.
By way of an example, he points to a study that examined SHARE data from 138 European regions to establish how the availability of formal long-term care affects the well-being of individuals acting as informal caregivers to their spouses.
Its outcomes include the observation that the existence of such services in a region is beneficial for spousal caregivers in this area, and that this boost partly derives from the fact that having options gives them a greater sense of control over the care situation, Börsch-Supan explains.
This finding highlights the importance of providing easily accessible long-term care services as a potential alternative to informal care, in view of their relevance not just to potential users themselves, but also to their relatives and to the wider community, he adds.
Always more to learn
SHARE-DEV3, which has been extended until June 2019, is also contributing to the preparations for wave 8 of the SHARE survey, scheduled for September 2019.
And plans for two more waves to be conducted before the end of 2024 are also in the pipeline, Börsch-Supan reports. Both will explore a major milestone for the baby boom generation, whose peak cohorts will be reaching retirement age, he adds.
‘Topics will include how health and well-being will change in the years immediately before and after retirement, how consumption and time use will adapt to the respondents’ new financial and social situation after retirement, and which level and distribution of living standards will emerge from the combination of private and public pension resources,’ Börsch-Supan concludes.