This report addresses the topic of active and healthy ageing in the Nordic countries and is part of Nordic Welfare Centre’s project on age-friendly and sustainable societies in the Nordic region
. The concept has in recent years become central to policies regarding population ageing in Europe, and the Nordic countries have been no exception in responding to the health equity and socio-economic challenges brought by these major demographic trends (UNECE, 2021).
The UN has additionally proclaimed 2021–2030 to be the Decade of Healthy Ageing (WHO, 2020). International action is led by the WHO, where different programme areas are addressing the specific needs of older adults and the many opportunities that ageing brings. In the Nordic context, the goals set forth in The Nordic Council of Ministers‘ Our Vision 2030 under the social sustainability pillar overlap with these global active and healthy ageing frameworks, which in turn form part of the efforts to become the most integrated and sustainable region in the world.
The aim of this report is to emphasise why there is a need for a more heterogenous perspective on active and healthy ageing. A range of relevant indicators exist at the European and national levels, but comparable data across the Nordic countries remain limited. By considering key concepts and available common Nordic indicators, this report provides outlooks on active and healthy ageing among diverse senior populations and explores the possible contribution of intersectional approaches in future analysis and policy-making across the Nordic region.
According to the European Commission, the number of Europeans aged over 65 will double in the next 50 years, and the number of over 80-year-olds will nearly triple (Eurostat, 2019). This trend is even more prevalent in the Nordic countries than many other parts of Europe. At the same time, social inequalities in health are growing in the Nordic countries, while ageism and age discrimination also negatively affect older adults (Jönsson, 2018). This presents a welfare paradox to systems that otherwise have long-standing mechanisms for promoting inclusion in policies (Fosse and Helgesen, 2019).
Intersections in health inequalities as they relate to active and healthy ageing remain underexplored, both in research and in the design of policies. The work of the Nordic Welfare Centre, which captures international research and frameworks on ageing, has emphasised that there are many phases to old adulthood. To age or to be old is not a static definition, and the older Nordic population is far from homogeneous. Rather, it consists of people of different ages and abilities with significantly different needs and can as such be divided into three groups: active, fragile, and dependent, each with their own specific patterns of needs (European Commission, 2019). How social and political identities intersect creates different modes of discrimination and privilege (Holman & Walker, 2021). This can in turn impact on health and barriers to active ageing in older age across several policy areas, and this needs to be better understood in the Nordic countries.
Lessons emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic suggest that the coming years will require concerted Nordic efforts toward intersectional active and healthy ageing perspectives in order to ensure that older adults, regardless of their background and current abilities, can fulfil their potential as a valuable and positive resource in society and can be met with equal possibilities for community participation, development, and planning.
This report contains four sections. The second section following the introduction provides the context for the study. It outlines key concepts related to active and healthy ageing, provides a brief overview of how this is targeted in national Nordic policies, and addresses intersectionality as an approach with relevance to policies that promote health equality. The third section examines what characterises active and healthy ageing among older adults based on the set of common Nordic statistical indicators compiled in a parallel study (Cuadrado et al., 2022). The report’s final section summarises and discusses the heterogeneity of the Nordic context and the next steps for Nordic indicators with outlooks on the Decade of Healthy Ageing in the Nordic countries and Our Vision 2030 (Nordic Council of Ministers, 2020). The report concludes with key recommendations targeting policymakers and practitioners working with the promotion of active and healthy ageing and age-friendliness at different governance levels.
This report serves as an early phase of the work aiming to uncover the prerequisites among different sub-groups of seniors in the Nordic countries, and what barriers might hinder older adults in general from participating in society and in their local communities on equal terms.