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Denmark’s senior generation among the healthiest in Europe

According to a new survey published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, the Danes are not among the Europeans who live the longest. But the Danes are the healthiest for longest. Researchers believe that the debate about the retirement age of the future should focus more on how to add life to our years, rather than years to our lives.  
According to recent figures, Denmark’s senior generation is one of the healthiest in Europe. Senior employees at Seniorvikar, a job portal and recruitment agency, which is currently in great demand, can be seen above. Photo: Seniorvikar

Publiceret: 27.10.2016
Af Peter G. H. Madsen mail

The debate about the future retirement age of Danes has been roaring in the wake of the Danish government’s presentation of its 2025 Plan in which it proposes that the retirement age in Denmark be raised by six months to 67.5 years by 2025.

The reason for the proposed increase is that the Danes are living longer.

But this is only one of several parameters that need to be taken into consideration in the discussion about the retirement age of the future.

Another and just as important parameter is how many years we stay healthy when we are older. This aspect has so far been given very little attention.

“It would be very sad if we only lived longer and not better. It is all about adding life to our years, not years to our lives,” says Lecturer Henrik Brønnum-Hansen from the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen.

The good news is that the older generation in Denmark on average belongs to a group that has the highest number of good years ahead when they approach retirement age.

According to the latest figures published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, a 65-year-old Danish man can expect to have 11 good years after he retires while a 65-year-old woman has 12.8 years of good health ahead of her.

In comparison, 65-year-olds in the EU ‘only’ have an average of 8.6 good years ahead of them when they celebrate their 65th birthday.

“This is very positive news for Denmark. On average, we are in an excellent position in terms of a good and healthy old age,” says Lecturer Henrik Brønnum-Hansen, who also adds that there may be differences in what a Danish or German or Portuguese woman regards as being a good year of life without restrictions to physical activity.

Danes have become healthier

At the Confederation of Danish Industry, Deputy Director Steen Nielsen points out that the Danes in general live healthier now than they did previously. The number of smokers, for example, has fallen drastically since the 1950s and currently many workplaces focus on encouraging their employees to live healthily.

“There has been a tendency to view older employees as weak. But we should be careful about equating age with being in poor physical condition – and these figures bear that out. We have seen great improvements in the Danish lifestyle and in the way we organise society. In future, we will also see technology contributing to easing our workload,” he says.

Inequality can have many causes

But according to Henrik Brønnum-Hansen, we are still seeing a growing inequality between social groups in Denmark.

According to the surveys that Henrik Brønnum-Hansen has himself conducted, where the highly educated can look forward to many healthy years as they grow older, the same is not true for those with poorer levels of education.

“The best thing would, of course, be if everyone had a long and healthy life. But that is unfortunately not currently the case,” he says.

The question is what causes these differences. The 3F trade union has pointed to physical wear and tear as the main reason – as unskilled workers, for example, have to lift heavy objects which may cause long-term damage.

Unskilled workers also tend to start in the job market much earlier than those with academic qualifications do, for example. The Confederation of Danish Industry believes that the picture is more complicated, not least because Danish workplaces have become much safer than was previously the case.

"Surveys show that people’s jobs have very little impact on the state of their health over the long term. Lifestyle is much more important,” explains Steen Nielsen.

Refusing to let the older generation work more

The debate about the Danish retirement age is currently raging among both right- and left-wing parties in Denmark after the Danish government proposed an increase in the retirement age as part of its 2025 Plan.

While the Danish Social Liberal Party supports the idea, both the Social Democrats and the Danish People’s Party are against putting up the retirement age by the six months the government is proposing.

These parties believe that those on lower wages will be hard hit by working longer because they live for a shorter time and are in poorer health.

The Danish People’s Party does not believe either that the government’s proposal is socially just. The new figures do not change that, says Rene Christensen, the party’s financial spokesperson.

“Although we are living longer, this does not mean that we are also able to work longer. We make it sound as if everyone is playing golf when they retire. But that is not the case,” says financial spokesperson Rene Christensen.

He refers to the fact that currently people receive their state pension for an average of 14 years and, according to the new figures, can only look forward to 11 years of good health when they reach the age of 65.
 
But in terms of healthy years of life after the age of 65 the Danes are at the top of the league table in Europe?

“This is something to celebrate. But when you look at the Danish government’s proposal, it is clear that we need to work longer just to create an economic buffer. We believe that that buffer can be found elsewhere, especially in integration initiatives which we spend billions on every year. We helped to put up the retirement age in 2006 and 2011, but we should not always look at increasing the retirement age every time we need money.”

When it is not work, but lifestyle that is important to our health when we grow older, people can do a great deal themselves to ensure that they both live and are healthy for longer?
 
“We should not be the judges of how people live. Of course, you have a responsibility. My point here is that a higher retirement age should not just be something we automatically resort to. People have a right to know when they will be able to retire,” says Rene Christensen, the party’s financial spokesperson.

Retirement age:
Currently, Danish employees are able to retire at the age of 65 if they are born before 1953. After 1953, the retirement age rises gradually. Employees born in 1967 will have to work until at least the age of 68.

In 2020, the government will be able to increase the retirement age further.

With the Danish government’s 2025 Plan, the Master Plan – for a stronger Denmark, the Danish retirement age will be increased by six months for employees born in 1958 or later so that the retirement age in Denmark will be raised to 67.5 years by 2025. That is six months more than the age that has applied so far.
Source: Master Plan – for a stronger Denmark and SEB
It would be very sad if we only lived longer and not better. It is all about adding life to our years, not years to our lives.
LECTURER HENRIK BRØNNUM-HANSEN FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH AT THE UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN
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PUBLISHED: 10/27/2016 LAST MODIFIED: 4/22/2017