List of topical issues

In Finland and Sweden, the old-age poverty risk varies greatly between men and women because clearly more women than men live alone. A research article by the Finnish Centre for Pensions reviews the gender differences in old-age poverty in 14 EU countries. The differences between the northern and southern countries are surprisingly large.

Economist Kati Ahonen from the Finnish Centre for Pensions, why are women over 75 more likely to be poor than men? 

There are two reasons. First of all, women’s earnings and pensions are smaller than men’s on average. Second, women live longer than men and therefore often live alone. People living alone are more likely to be poor than those who live with another adult.  

What was the most important new finding in your research? 

We already knew that living alone is linked to a high risk of poverty. But we were somewhat surprised by how large the differences in living alone are accross EU countries, and how these differences in living arrangements affect the gender gap and the gap in poverty risk between these countries. 

How does the household structure affect the risk of poverty? 

The income of all household members affects the poverty risk. If you live together with another pensioner or someone who is working, you share housing and other living expenses. If you live alone, you must pay all expenses yourself.  

How does Finland and Sweden differ from countries in Southern Europe? 

Older people in the Nordic countries are clearly more likely to live alone than older people in Southern Europe. In Finland, 67% of women aged 75 live alone, while in Spain, around 40% do so.  

In Finland and Sweden, people are encouraged to live alone and receive help to live as independently as possible through various public care and support services. When a person can no longer manage on their own, there are – or at least should be – a range of supported housing options. It is rare for an adult child to take in an elderly parent in poor health. This means that older people tend to live in households with one or two pensioners.  

In Southern European households, on the other hand, it is more common for several generations to live together. For example, when a woman becomes a widow, she may well move in with her adult child and their family. In many countries, public sector care services are not very extensive, and family members are expected to take care of their old parents. 

The population is ageing, and more people are likely to live alone in old age. How can we reduce the risk of poverty and promote the well-being of people living alone? 

Years ago, I floated the idea of granny and grandpa communes to solve the financial and other practical problems of living alone. Many people of my age plan, perhaps half-jokingly, to move into a big farmhouse with their friends when they get old and to hire a carer or care services together.  

I’ve read about an experiment where old people and students live in the same building. The idea is that, in return for helping the old with their household chores, students are given reasonably priced accommodation. Ideas along these lines sound very developable.  

On the other hand, I know from my own experience of helping my parents that there is a strong desire to live in one’s own home. And even if there is a desire for change, it is important to work out how to keep the costs of such shared living arrangements at a level that makes it affordable not only to provide but also to use such forms of living.

The research article Gender differences in old-age poverty in 14 EU countries : exploring the role of household structure ( was published in the journal International Review of Economics.

Finnish Centre for Pensions – Central body of and expert on statutory earnings-related pensions