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Ageing and Gender Equality

29 October 2019

Geneva, Palais des Nations

Changing demographics
Ageing and its implications for gender equality

Side event at the Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting, 29 October 2019

To trigger a discussion among UNECE member States and civil society on good practices to promote gender equality in old age, a side-event on ageing and gender equality was organized during the UNECE Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting 29 October 2019 in Geneva. The event was jointly organized by France, Germany, and Italy, the European Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission of Europe (UNECE). Participants shared their perspectives on how to achieve gender equality in old age.

In the Regional Implementation Strategy of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing UNECE member States committed to mainstreaming a gender approach in their policy response to population ageing by formulating the objective to achieve full gender equality, realise full equality between women and men in their contribution in the economy, ensure gender equality of access to social protection and social security systems and promote shared responsibilities of women and men within their families.

The discussion on gender equality was placed against the context of poulation ageing. Persons aged 65 years and older accounted for 15 percent of UNECE’s population in 2015, and this proportion is projected to increase to 21 percent by 2030 and to 24 percent by 2050. Women generally live longer than men and differences in the number of men and women are even more prominent in older age groups.

Accumulation of disadvantages throughout life leads to differing trajectories and outcomes for women influencing their healthy life expectancy - women live longer than men but often in poorer health. One theme of the discussion highlighted the need to tackle the often intersecting discriminations that lead to inequalities accumulating over the life course trajectory, disadvantaging older women. This would not only benefit women but the whole population across the lifespan and future generations. Actions should be taken at every stage of life to improve equity within and between generations.

To tackle gender inequalities, it is important to take a life course approach that focuses on: 1) preventing inequalities before they cumulate over time; 2) mitigating entrenched inequalities – we cannot remove inequalities but can mitigate them, and 3) anticipating changes. All panelists emphasized that in order to be able to prevent, mitigate and anticipate changes and develop strategic action plans to reduce gender inequalities throughout the life course we need to collect, analyse, and report sex and age disaggregated data.

The main focus of the discussion was on prevention. Gender inequality in old age is manifested, for instance, by a great risk of poverty, which is higher among older women than older men, and due to a significant gender gap in pensions. Women’s right risk of poverty in old age is mainly a consequence of women’s lower labour force participation, and shorter and interrupted careers due to childbearing and caring. Furthermore, even when women participate in the labour force, they are usually less paid for the same work, and work at lower-level positions. Older women are also more likely to live alone, due to longer life expectancy, which is an additional risk factor for old-age poverty.

Participants recognized the need to address gender-based disparities in labour market conditions now, to prevent higher poverty rates among women in the future. Working conditions should be more flexible and reflect women’s life trajectory. Work-life balance could be resolved by flexible working arrangements, equal participation of women and men in caring, and establishment of minimum wages for caregivers. To reduce gender-based inequalities, several countries provide employees with rights: to have flexible working time or to have caregiver leave, but often without financial compensation.

To reduce the gender pension gap, the improve the reconciliation of unpaid care work (which is predominantly performed by women) and paid employment, a notable number of changes were made in German legislation. In January 2019, the German Federal Government introduced the right to work part-time for a limited period of time ("Brückenteilzeit" meaning a "bridge" between periods of full-time employment) – working time could be reduced to 15 hours per week for up to 24 months. Furthermore, in Germany the statutory pension insurance scheme recognises and rewards care provided by parents, and the provisions have been improved in the last 5 years. In 2014, a national Act extended child-raising periods for children born before 1992 from 12 to 24 months. In January 2019 other Act extended it for additional six months. For children born in or after 1992, the child-raising period is three years.

In France, the Act on adapting society to an ageing population entered into force in 2016, aiming to meet the needs of older people and support them in the case of loss of autonomy. Several changes were introduced in the French legislation that promote gender equality in all ages: 1) public pension system awards mothers and fathers with 1 year of insurance for the birth or adoption of each child 2) men are entitled with paternal leave, but are reluctant to take as it is not well paid 3) informal carers of older persons are entitled with the “right to respite” and receive small compensation for it, and to receive certain amount of money if they are hospitalized.

Entrenched inequalities can be mitigated by promoting older women’s social inclusion and active participation through financial support, access to formal or informal work, volunteering, and life-long learning; making communities and services more “age-friendly”; providing access to affordable and appropriate health care; and providing older women information on their rights.

Expected demographic, societal and technological changes should be taken into account when developing policies and strategies. It is not easy to predict all the technological advances and how they will interact with our lives and shape the future. However, it is likely that a number of jobs will change or become redundant. The world’s population is ageing – the number and share of older persons in the population are increasing – and it has implications for nearly all sectors of society, as well as family structures. The number of older persons is expected to double by 2050, and the number of persons aged 80 or over years to triple by 2050. It is also predicted that in 2050 there will be more older persons aged 60 or over than adolescents and youth at ages (10-24). Further, it is predicted that the present younger generations will face even greater inequalities than current older generations. Future older generations will experience older age in much more varied ways - some will have accumulated periods of inactivity and low wages and others will have stable and rewarding careers).

Preventing, mitigating and anticipating ageing unequally requires a comprehensive, multisectoral policy approach. Participants also highlighted the importance of regional and international cooperation in advancing gender equality objectives.

Read also:

UNECE Policy Brief on Ageing No. 2 Gender Equality, Work and Old Age