14. Much of the responsibility for long-term care continues to fall on families, and it is largely women who continue to meet the majority of society’s caring needs. Mendonca (1995) notes that a large proportion of these women is over 55 years of age. However, with increasing participation in the work force, the restructuring of families that follows divorce, and geographical mobility, the pool of women available as carers may begin to fall.

Female unpaid family workers (as % of total 1990-1997)

Graph of Female unpaid family workers (as % of total 1990-1997)

Source: United Nations Development Programme (1999) Human Development Report.

Women in Poverty

15. Poverty experienced at an old age is a reflection of poor economic status experienced earlier in life and is an important determinant of health (European Commission 2000). People are also retiring earlier, either through choice or redundancy. When women are forced to leave the labour market, they are more likely to face economic insecurity in the future. There is concern that a disproportionate number of older women are experiencing some form of poverty as they grow older, reflected by low incomes, social isolation and poor housing (EIWH, 1996)

16. Research has shown that women of all ages experience poverty to a greater extent than men and for a wide variety of reasons. However, there are unfortunately no published statistical data that breaks down the numbers of men and women in poverty across Europe.

Country Population in Poverty ( %)
Italy 2
Norway 3
Finland 4
Luxembourg 4
Sweden 5
Denmark 8
Belgium 12
France 12
Germany 12
United Kingdom 13
Netherlands 14
Spain 21
Ireland 37

*A poverty line corresponding to the US poverty line of US$14.40 per person per day (1985 purchasing power parity) has been used
Source: UN Development Programme (1997) Human Development Report

Percentage of persons in households unable to save regularly

Graph of Percentage of persons in households unable to save regularly

Source: European Community Household Panel 1995

Health Inequalities

17. Although women generally live longer than men, the quality of life that many older women experience can be less than satisfactory. For example, chronic back and joint pain, dental problems, foot problems, visual and hearing disorders and immobility are common physical conditions experienced more frequently by women (EIWH, 1996). In addition, depression is the most common mental disorder among women in developed countries, and is twice as common in women as in men; yet, there is no biological evidence to indicate that women are any more likely to be susceptible to depression than men.

18. Women are often excluded from studies of health inequalities, as it is difficult and controversial to classify women according to social class. There are also limitations to the data produced on health care utilisation by men and women and currently compilations of European statistics offer little in the way of sex and gender disaggregated information. What does exist has been compiled from the Eurobarometer surveys in 1996

Self-perceived health status, Women 65-74 years, EU 15 (1996)

Country Very good Good Fair Bad Very Bad
EU 15 9.7 29.2 43.3 14.1 3.7
Portugal 0.0 4.3 52.9 34.3 8.6
Austria 15.9 25.5 47.1 5.9 0.0
Italy 4.2 28.4 54.7 12.6 0.0
Germany W 6.0 34.3 50.7 7.5 1.5
Germany E 4.7 34.4 51.6 4.7 4.7
France 6.4 27.7 36.2 19.1 10.6
Finland 7.4 23.5 56.8 6.2 4.9
Belgium 16.0 46.0 30.0 4.0 4.0
Spain 6.9 25.0 37.5 25.0 5.6
UK 17.6 24.4 41.2 15.3 1.2
Luxembourg 8.8 32.4 44.1 11.8 2.9
Greece 9.0 29.9 22.4 37.3 1.5
Denmark 31.7 33.3 20.0 5.0 10.0
Sweden 21.0 30.6 33.9 14.5 0.0
Netherlands 25.0 40.0 30.0 0.0 5.0
Ireland 21.6 25.5 47.1 5.9 0.0

 Source: Eurobarometer 44.3 / 1996

19. There are inequalities in health both within and between all European countries (Mackenbach et al, 1997). In all countries, the older people get, the more likely they are to make use of health care services. Older women are twice as likely to have more GP consultations and to be hospitalised. They also tend to stay longer in hospital compared to younger women (European Commission 2000). Older women also report lower levels of satisfaction with their health.

Percentage with non-birth hospitalisation(s) in the past year, Women 16+ years, EU15 (1996)

Graph of Percentage with non-birth hospitalisation(s) in the past year, Women 16+ years, EU15 (1996)

Source: Eurobarometer 44.3 / 1996

Percentage with disability due to long-standing illness, Women 65+years, EU 15(1996)

Country No. Yes, some Yes, severe DK/NA
EU 15 50.7 36.4 12.3 0.6
Portugal 44.3 24.7 29.9 1.0
Austria 45.0 40.7 12.1 2.2
Italy 60.3 33.6 6.0 0.0
Germany W 57.0 31.0 10.0 2.0
Germany E 46.6 34.1 17.0 2.3
France 27.3 54.5 18.2 0.0
Finland 48.7 31.9 19.3 0.0
Belgium 61.9 29.9 8.2 0.0
Spain 44.1 40.9 15.1 0.0
UK 55.1 34.7 10.2 0.0
Luxembourg 68.6 17.6 13.7 0.0
Greece 34.5 48.8 15.5 1.2
Denmark 57.0 26.7 15.1 1.2
Sweden 59.6 28.1 12.4 0.0
Netherlands 81.8 12.1 6.1 0.0
Ireland 42.3 45.1 11.3 1.4

Source: Eurobarometer 44.3/1996

20. Research undertaken recently by the European Institute of Women’s Health has demonstrated that women in Europe are:

  • Less likely than men to be included in clinical trials for new medicines
  • Disadvantaged because less money is spent on research into women specific illnesses and diseases
  • Less likely than men to have private health insurance as coverage for women specific illnesses is often more restrictive
  • Grossly under-represented in managerial and medical hierarchies.

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