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Regular version of the site

Improving Old Age in Russia — Not Just the Pension System

Oksana Sinyavskaya is Associate Professor at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs and a leading Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Development Studies, Centre for Studies on Income and Living Standards. She will be giving a paper at the XVI April International Conference on Economic and Social Development about the problems of ageing in Russia. She talked to the HSE English Language News service about her research in this area.

— What conclusions did you come to in the research that you wrote about jointly with your colleague Maria Varlamova in Ageing in Russia: A Comparative Analysis of Russia’s Position in the International Index of Active Ageing? Can you tell us something about the paper you will be delivering at the April Conference?

— On the 7th of April at the conference there will be a session called Socio-Economic Aspects of Ageing in Russia and Europe. Researchers from our Centre for Studies of Income and Living Standards will present two papers on getting older and active ageing.

We have tried to move away from the one-sided negative attitude to getting old from the perspective of the labour market and pensions system. We turned to the concept of active ageing which according to the World Health Organisation is a ‘process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation [in social and economic life - OS] and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age’. Questions of active ageing are particularly important in the context of the early stages of an ageing population, because it allows us to soften the negative effects and to make the most of the potential of Russia’s older population.

The concept is itself relatively new - less than 20 years old and for a long time, discussions about active ageing were mainly on a qualitative level or based on various, disparate pieces of empirical research. Only very recently, have we acquired the instruments to measure quantitatively how much one country or another has the proper conditions for active ageing and what quality of life older people have there.

In the past two years, two international indexes to make a comparative analysis of the socio-economic conditions of ageing in different countries have appeared. The first is the Global Age Watch Index funded by HelpAge International which covers 96 countries  including Russia. The second is the Active Ageing Index which was developed by a group of international experts under the auspices of the UN European Commission and funded by a the 28 EU member states. Russia is not represented in this index. Nevertheless, a comparative analysis of Russia’s situation in similar indexes relating to other countries can tell us a great deal about the strengths and weaknesses of the ageing process in Russia and highlight problems in social policy for the elderly. 

Russia’s best indicators are in employment and education but the more problematic scores are in health and living standards

So our research used data gathered according to the Global Age Watch Index and we tried to apply the methodology of the Active Ageing Index to evaluate Russia’s position in relation to European countries.

In the Global Age Watch Index Russia came 78th out of 91 countries in 2013 and 65th out of 96 countries in 2014. Our alternative rating showed that in some ways Russia should be positioned a bit higher. Russia’s best indicators are in employment and education but the more problematic scores are in health and living standards.

According to the Active Ageing Index in 2010, Russia came 18th out of 29 countries (EU + Russia). It did best in employment and good conditions for active ageing but the worst scores were for ‘independence, health and security’, while ‘participation in society’ put Russia into the second half of the list. So a comparative analysis of conditions for ageing in Russia show that firstly, things aren’t as bad as it seems sometimes, if you only analyse the national data and secondly, regardless of the considerable differences in methodology and data, the problematic areas that come out for Russia are much the same.

Although work on studying active ageing in Russia is not finished, and we’ll continue with it this year, we can formulate several recommendations for a more effective policy towards ageing in Russia. My colleagues Anna Yermolina and Maria Varlamova will present more detailed research results at the conference session.

— Which international researchers (universities) do you work closely with? In which areas?

— As we use international indexes in our research, we worked quite closely with a team of international researchers on developing the Global AgeWatch Index and the Active Ageing Index. We made particularly good connections with Professor Asghar Zaidi at Southampton University who plays a very active role in developing both indexes. In April 2015 we will take part in an international seminar in Brussels on improving the methodology of the Active Ageing Index and analysing its data.

in the early 2000s it was clear that raising the pension age could help economise on pension expenditure

— What are your thoughts on the public debate about increasing the pension age in Russia?

— The results of our research on active ageing have led us to the conclusion that governments should do more than just reforming the pension system when it comes to dealing with older people and ageing in the population. Even so it is understandable that as pension liabilities are the largest single share of government social spending, the economic crisis is forcing them to seek reserves. So in the current situation the government has turned to the issue of reducing the incomes of working pensioners and raising the pension age.

I have been working on pension reform in general and raising the pension age in particular for more than 15 years. And in the early 2000s it was clear that raising the pension age could help economise on pension expenditure, even if there was an increase in disability and unemployment, although even then there were arguments in favour of raising the pension age for women to sixty on a par with men. The question of raising the pension age for men remains fraught because of their relatively low life expectancy and high levels of disability in later years. However, among the arguments in favour of raising the pension age for both sexes I can mention in particular; young people are entering the job market later which, if the limits of the pension age stay the same, means that each subsequent generation is spending fewer years working and fewer years paying contributions into the pension system; the gradual improvement in levels of education in the workforce and changes in the structure of the economy and jobs to more services and non-physical labour, which weakens the link between age and productivity. So I would not regard raising the pension age as an anti-crisis measure but as an answer to long-term demographic and socio-economic change. And I would begin by bringing the pension age for women in line with the pension age for men at 60 and only then return to the question of raising it for both sexes to 62-63. A more radical increase in the pension age in Russia is an issue for the distant future when the country finally overcomes the appalling gap with the rest of the developed world in male life expectancy. 

Anna  Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service

See also:

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