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New Research will help Ireland face the challenges of Ageing.

With one of the most rapidly ageing populations in Europe, Ireland needs to face up to the challenges posed as we all grow older. Now a team of researchers led by UCD Geary Institute’s Director, Professor Colm Harmon, is to join a major European study to identify patterns in health, employment, family and social networks, economic status, income and wealth among the over 50s.

The Irish team is being funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) and working alongside economists from the UCD Geary Institute are; Professor Cecily Kelleher, UCD School of Public Health and Population Science, Professor Eamon O’Shea, NUI Galway’s Director of the Centre for Social Gerontology and James McBride, Director of the Irish Social Science Data Archive.

Professor Harmon’s team will participate in the Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) which collects data on the life circumstances of about 22,000 persons age 50 and over across 11 European countries. These range from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and from Eastern Europe to now Ireland. The project will interview over 3,000 Irish residents in this age group, and return to these same individuals every two years to examine changes in their life outcomes.

Already the European study has thrown up some interesting results. For example, throughout all of the countries in the survey there is a strong correlation between health, behaviour and socio-economic status. Compared to individuals with a higher education, individuals with a low education are 70 percent more likely to be physically inactive and 50 percent more likely to be obese.

In the context of employment, the SHARE survey shows that agreeable work place conditions support later retirement and is strongly associated with well being. Lower quality of employment goes hand in hand with poor health and depression. The match between effort and reward – particularly during pre-retirement years, varies considerably across the European countries surveyed with a clear North-South gradient.

Speaking today about the study, Professor Harmon said “What some commentators have called an ‘agequake’ will make its mark globally during this century - making ageing one of the greatest medical, social and economic challenges of the 21st Century. The challenge for the research and policy community is to capture the complex relationships between economic, health, physiological, psychological and social factors that determine the quality of life of the ageing population. The SHARE project is a direct response to this challenge.”

“We need to take a positive view of ageing – to see the ageing populations as something to nurture and build from, rather than seeing ageing in a negative light. The results of this study will inform policymakers and practitioners in Ireland on all aspects of the ageing experience and Ireland in a vital and influential role to global ageing issues” added Professor Harmon.

Ireland’s experience in Europe will, through the SHARE programme, be hugely important. Professor Harmon noted that “the variation of welfare, educational and social systems across Europe creates important policy differences that are very informative.

By studying the ageing population through a common dataset across individual countries, governments will have information that helps measure the effectiveness of different policies. Findings from one country can be applied to other countries to improve policy analysis across all countries.”

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