Unequal ageing: life-expectancy, care needs and reforms to the welfare state

Project summary

The main research objective is to document how inequalities in ageing – such as those between the rich and the poor and those between men and women – have changed across successive birth cohorts, and how public policies aiming to strengthen the fiscal sustainability of welfare systems have counteracted or accentuated these trends. This project will rely on data and reforms carried out in five countries encompassing North America, Western Europe and Scandinavia and carefully chosen to ensure a wide span of institutional arrangements in areas such as labour markets, social security and private pensions: Canada, France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

First, we will document recent trends in life-expectancy and healthy ageing inequality. Our overall objective is to bring about a more complete and multi-faceted picture of recent trends in ageing inequalities across countries from North America and Europe. For France and Sweden, we will use administrative data to combine information on income, occupation, residence and death records and construct detailed measures of mortality inequalities, and assess how these have changed across recent cohorts. We will then carry out a cross-country analysis of the income-mortality gradient using recent estimates for Canada, Germany, the UK, and the US. The objective is to exploit crosscountry differences to dig deeper into the factors which could explain variations in inequalities of life expectancy. Using survey data on health at older ages in Europe, and specific surveys for France and Sweden, we will estimate inequalities of healthy ageing by gender and socio-economic background. We will provide estimates of how inequalities of disability-free life-expectancy are changing over time. Using Canadian data, we will estimate how the use of long-term care varies by socio-demographic factors.

Second, we go beyond describing trends in inequalities by looking at the effects that current policies have on redistributive trends. More precisely, we will analyse how pension reforms have contributed to reduce, or increase, these inequalities in ageing, using cases from France, Sweden and the UK. Combining estimates on the income-mortality gradient with careful estimation and simulation of the impact of pension systems, we will estimate redistributive patterns of public old-age provision, and analyse how pension reforms have altered this redistribution. We will distinguish between static analyses and analyses that do allow for behavioural responses, notably changes to retirement patterns. In particular, we will elicit how strategies to extend career length counteract or aggravate inequalities. In addition to public pension reforms, we will consider reforms to private pension provision in the UK, through estimating the distributional impact of autoenrolment of most employees into workplace pensions.

Third, we will study whether, and how, the looming increase in care needs generates additional inequalities for those giving care and for people in need of care. Recent research has highlighted how care needs, formal care take-up and informal care provision are largely influenced by socio-economic background. We will contribute to this body of research by analysing how reforms impact inequalities in care responsibilities in Canada and Germany. In addition, we will analyse how the gender gap in informal care – elderly care is overwhelmingly provided by women – is related to gender inequalities in the labour market and the system of pension provision using European data. Moreover, we will use data from Canada and Germany to estimate models of long-term care use explicitly considering inequalities in socioeconomic background. Finally, we will exploit reforms to the pension and long-term care systems in Germany to assess how likely they are to impact inequalities in informal care provision.

Project details

PENSINEQ particpated in the fourth joint call on ‘Equality and Wellbeing across Generations’.

Project duration and budget

Project duration: 36 months
Total costs: €1,619,524.72


  • Paris School of Economics, France.
    Coordinator: Prof Antoine Bozio
    Mrs Delphine Roy
  • DIW-Berlin, Germany.
    Prof Peter Haan
    Dr Katharina Wrohlich
  • Institute of Fiscal Studies, United Kingdom.
    Mr Carl Emmerson
    Mrs Rowena Crawford
  • Stockholm University, Sweden.
    Prof Mårten Palme
  • University of British Columbia, Canada.
    Prof Kevin Milligan
  • Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada.
    Prof Tammy Schirle
  • Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy, Sweden.
    Dr Lisa Laun