This is the first report into the state of ageing in Ireland and it provides a framework for understanding the extent to which older persons are empowered to participate in society and to overcome barriers to achieving wellbeing. The report dispels myths and stereotypes about older persons, raises issues for ageing policy and makes recommendations for achieving greater equality of outcome. It tells the story of ageing and older persons in Ireland today.
The lives of older persons in Ireland are in many ways far better now than they were 100 or 50 years ago. Most people are living longer, healthier lives and can look forward to many years of active older age. At the same time, ageist stereotypes persist in society and there remain profound inequalities. Not everyone has the same opportunity to age in comfort and security, and not every older person is empowered to participate and engage in society.
Reframing Ageing - The State of Ageing in Ireland 2022 presents Age Action’s core research and analysis of the state of ageing in Ireland. Building on similar work from other countries, this report draws on national statistics and a wealth of Irish research on society and the lived experiences of older persons.
Older Persons Are Not All The Same
The estimated population of Ireland in 2022 includes more than one million people (1.04 million) aged 60 or older. This represents over 1 million stories of growing older in Ireland. Understanding the lives of older persons now reveals some inequalities that need to be addressed. Growing older does not mean that we lose our diverse identities or aspirations. There are one million people aged 60 or older in Ireland, which means one million stories of growing older in Ireland. These reveal inequalities that must be addressed now.
People aged 60 or older represent one in four adults in Ireland. The different age groups of older adults include approximately 508,000 people in their 60s, 350,000 people in their 70s, 148,000 people in their 80s, and 36,500 people aged 90 or older. Older persons are highly diverse in their capacities and circumstances. Many national statistics only provide information on one age cohort (typically “65 or older”). This can reinforce stereotypical and ageist understandings of older persons. At a minimum, description of the population should provide information by decade to give a more accurate picture of the lives of people aged 60 and older.
Why Do We Experience Older Age Differently?
Our bodies are all ageing, but many factors can influence how long and healthy our lives are, including education, income, diet, social participation, and lifestyle. Most Irish people will be healthy and active well into our seventies and eighties. However, many of us face unjust barriers and discrimination that can limit our ability to age healthily and independently. Age Action’s vision is a society that enables all older people to participate and to live full, independent lives. This means removing ageism and other barriers that stop people participating or living to the full. It also means providing the necessary supports for people to achieve their potential. Everyone is entitled to have their basic human rights respected, protected and fulfilled, regardless of their age.
Issue Spotlight - Income
The average income of older persons tends to decline over time, reflecting fewer people working or being otherwise economically active. As identified by NESC, “in old age, there is effectively nothing individuals can any longer do if their income from all sources is insufficient to keep them from poverty.
Compared to an EU average of 57%, Irish people aged 65-74 have the third lowest income replacement rate at 38% (2020), compared to incomes at age 50-59.Looking forward, at least 1.8 million employees are not making pension contributions and several hundred thousand are making relatively small contributions. One of the Government’s benchmarks for pension adequacy is 34% of median incomes. The maximum State Pension falls below this target, with the gap widening from €8.58
in 2017 to €43.84 in 2021. The report of the Pensions Commission also warns that the 34% benchmark may not be sufficient to prevent poverty in future.
In Ireland, one in eight (12.4%) older persons report being unable to afford a meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day. One in 14 (6.9%) are unable to afford a weekly
roast. One in 20 (4.9%) are unable to afford to have family or friends to their home for a meal once a month.
Issue Spotlight - Transport
Most households in Ireland are car dependent. This results from the relatively large proportion of housing that is rural, the distance from shops and services even in suburban areas, and a lack of public transport options outside of larger towns and cities. Older persons’ activities can be radically curtailed by a loss of the ability to drive, inability to afford a car or the death of a spouse who was the household’s driver. Lack of transport often leads to withdrawal from social activities, with consequences for older persons’ wellbeing and health. Older women and those living rurally are particularly likely to lack transport options.
A study of persons aged 50 or older found that “75% of households own at least one car and three quarters of those who drive regularly, do so every day.” However,
some older persons (especially women) may be reliant on their spouse or another relative to drive them. This data is also likely to be skewed, as it refers to people aged
50 or older.
Despite the evidence that older persons are among the safest drivers, once a person is aged 65 or older, a renewed licence can only be extended to their 75th birthday, and once a person is aged 72+ they may only apply for one-year or three-year licences, rather than ten-year licences. There are no application fees for a person aged 70+ seeking to renew their licence, however any required eyesight or medical tests are not free of charge. A person aged 75 or over needs a “certification of fitness to drive” from their doctor. Many older persons regard these provisions as onerous, if not ageist.
Issue Spotlight - Contribution
Older persons have made and continue to make valuable contributions to society and the economy, but they do not need to justify their existence. Those enjoying retirement or leisure activities are fully entitled to do so. The purpose of this section is not to rationalize society’s obligations towards older persons but to counter stereotypes about older persons’ supposed inactivity.
Just under half of people aged 60-69 are at work (240,000). However, many contracts of employment have a mandatory retirement age of 65 and most people are entitled to a State Pension from age 66. As a result, many people transition from work to retirement in their mid-60s, whether they want to or not.
The CSO’s 2019 Health Survey found that one in six (16%) of those aged 65-74 are carers, as are one in 11 (9%) of those aged 75 or older. These figures imply that nearly
94,000 people aged 65+ were carers in 2020. In general, carers report poorer health than non-carers. Carers also experience lower incomes (some having given up paid
employment) and many struggle financially. According to TILDA, nearly one in five (18%) older adults volunteers weekly. More than half (56%) have volunteered over the last two years.
Issue Spotlight - Ageism
Ageism is now recognised as one of the most widespread prejudices around the world. That is why the WHO has launched a global campaign to combat ageism and a report on
the issue. The 2021 Global Report on Ageism is a landmark publication that describes the widespread ageism in all societies.
Ageism is not simply a negative attitude that a person has control over. The Global Report shows that age stereotypes are internalised by children as young as four, and a range
of determinants can influence ageism and self-directed ageism. These include age, gender, education, occupation, personality, knowledge about ageing, life expectancy in
the country, anxiety or fear of death, health status, and lack of intergenerational contact.
The lack of legal protection for long-term residential tenancies is particularly harmful to older persons. Lack of opportunities for older workers indicates widespread ageism in
the labour market. The legality of compulsory retirement from age 65 is blatant ageism enshrined in law. Lack of adequate statistical reporting about older persons hides issues
of inequality. The list goes on.
All of us should confront the ageism in our society and participate in the project of reframing ageing: changing how we think, feel and act towards ageing and older persons.
The report confirms there are many reasons for the differences in how we experience older age, including personal identity and choices, economic advantages and disadvantages, and access to quality public services.Reframing Ageing - The State of Ageing in Ireland 2022 contains 42 recommendations to Government for action.
But all have a stake in being able to age in good health and to remain independent in older age, which means planning for our future, both personally and as a society.
Age Action’s report is an invitation to everyone has a part to play in achieving age equality. Age equality means all of us having adequate incomes, secure housing, accessible transport, quality care, and choice and control over our own lives.