Social inequalities in Ageing (SIA); health, care and institutional reforms in the Nordic welfare model

The Nordic populations are ageing. The older segments of the populations are increasing both in terms of absolute numbers and as proportions of the populations. While the dramatic increase in life expectancy experienced throughout the past 150 years are one of the most remarkable achievements of human history, the ageing population, nevertheless, comprise a serious challenge to the Nordic welfare model as we know it.

Old age is often accompanied by poor health and functional disabilities. Thus, a growing proportion of older people in the population is likely to put a strain on the health and social care systems. This development, in turn, begs the question on whether the Nordic countries can afford to maintain their universal provision of largely tax-funded, welfare programmes. Moreover, health and survival in old age is unequally distributed throughout the populations. Women tend to have poorer health than men but yet outlive them. Individuals with low education, low income, and manual workers are substantially more likely to have health problems in old age and tend to die at earlier ages than individuals with more education, higher incomes, and backgrounds as non-manual workers. Similarly, with some notable exceptions, immigrants tend to have more health problems than those born in the Nordic countries.

This research programme rests on two pillars, one concerning life course influences, trends and trajectories in health and functioning, and the other concerning welfare state changes and inequality impacts of recent social reforms. To meet the challenge of population ageing and social inequalities in late life health, it is of utmost importance to map out the life course predictors of healthy ageing. Other urgent research questions springs from the intersection between ageing populations and welfare institutions. That is, how do these institutions meet the needs of older adults, and does the increased focus on the individual and market inspired solutions lead to increasing or new social inequalities?

Our research group consists of researchers with a wide range of academic backgrounds, from all of the Nordic countries. We will analyse these questions using a range of high quality Nordic databases, including both survey data and data from administrative registries. The results from the research programme concern one of the most pressing issues in welfare research today and, thus, have the potential to inform and influence future social policy.


Maria Nilsson

Maria Nilsson

Special Adviser