In contrast to several other European countries, Spain was not an ‘old’ country until quite recently. In 1970, people over 65 years of age or older represented 11% of the population. This percentage increased to 18.2% in 2014 and if population projections continue, Spain will be the third oldest country in Europe in 2050, with almost 30% of its population older than 64 years (European Commission, 2012). This implies big challenges for Spanish authorities to take the necessary measures in or order to provide for the older population now and in the future.
About the author
Lola Casal-Sanchez is a multicultural-oriented sociologist and social worker with experience in working for different governments and NGO’s in the Netherlands, USA, UK, Portugal, Spain and Venezuela. She works as a Programme Manager at the ‘Consejo General del Trabajo Social’, the Spanish General Council for Social Work.
Aging is a population phenomenon that affects all public spheres, but it is also an individual reality and experience. Furthermore, senior interests or issues that Spanish seniors consider most important are influenced by the following differences: life expectancy at birth (women 85.13 years, and men 79.38), the average pension (women receive 38% less than men; Comisiones Obreras, 2014), household composition (the number of older women living alone is twice that of men - 9% vs. 14 %; IMSERSO, 2014). In addition, the current socioeconomic context of Spain has a direct impact on matters that worry the elderly the most, such as economic status, health, family, isolation, and physical and psychological dependence.
Different roles for older people
Keeping up their economic status is important for older adults. The effect of the socio-economic crisis, together with a reduction in income (people lose 9% of their purchasing power after retirement; IESE & La Caixa, 2014), worry older adults because of uncertainties about possible future health problems or disabilities. In fact, half of the seniors consider their economic situation to have become worse since the crisis started (IMSERSO, 2014). The economic status of seniors has also been affected by changes in the role of elderly people. They have moved from being cared for, to being caregivers of both other seniors and grandchildren. Six in ten seniors provide economic support for family or friends (19.1 points higher in comparison to 2012 and 44.4 points with respect to 2011). In fact, the number of households that depend on retirement benefits as a main source of income has increased during the crisis and now represents 20 % of total households in Spain (IMSERSO, 2012). The support that seniors provide to the rest of the family has become a source of security for factors such as pension, home ownership and maintenance of family relationships.
The quality of health care
To remain in good health is also important for seniors. However, the reforms that the government has introduced since the beginning of the crisis have had a direct impact on the quality of healthcare and health insurance coverage for seniors, who are indeed the main users of healthcare systems. In fact, one third of the aging population think that healthcare quality has decreased (Comisiones Obreras, 2014). Seniors consider it important to be properly cared for when situations of physical and psychological dependence arise. Between 2013 and 2014, the dependency ratio of people over 64 years has increased from 26.7 to 27.6 per thousand.1. Seniors want to be cared for and to continue living in their own homes and demand sufficient resources to adapt their houses to their needs. Unfortunately, cutbacks have led to 117,000 people dying while waiting for their dependency benefit (Comisiones Obreras, 2014).
The possibility of remaining at home relates to the idea of being alone/isolation and participation in society. Seniors want to maintain their role in the family and want to have equal opportunities for participating in society through cultural, political and social activities. They manifest a clear interest in being involved in matters that directly affect them and an awareness about legal issues—incapacitation, guardianship, confidentiality (Comisiones Obreras, 2014).
In conclusion, Spanish older adults consider it important to have a healthy, successful and productive old age. They seek to attain active ageing and control of their own well-being, and want to be involved in decision-making processes, especially in the areas that affect them directly (Moraleda, 2015)