Objectives: The absence of disease or disability and active involvement in society are considered as essential dimensions of successful ageing. To assess these concepts, we propose a new indicator the Healthy Working Life Expectancy (HWLE) that associates health status and productive engagement, in order to compare various situations in Europe.
Design: The study population is drawn from the European Community Household Panel (ECHP) which is the unique source of longitudinal data, providing comparable information between 1995 and 2001 on health and work statuses for a sample of some 60,000 household's representative of the population of: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. Based on the multi-state life table approach conventionally used for calculating healthy life expectancies, the HWLE corresponds to the number of years spent between the ages of 50 and 70 both in good health and at work.
Results: In average, among the 20 years available between age 50 and age 70, the HWLE is 7.5 years for men and 4.8 years for women, ie, one half and one third respectively of the number of years spent in good health (14.1 and 13.5 years). The countries where the healthy working life expectancy of seniors is the highest are also the countries where the levels of employment of seniors are higher. Conversely, health status has only a weak influence on the HWLE indicator.
Conclusion: These findings suggest the existence of a reservoir of healthy years which can be used to increase the length of the working life expectancy. They underline also the essential role that employment maintenance and retirement policies should have to increase the number of healthy years spent at work, and therefore guarantee a successful ageing for the seniors in Europe.