1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Project: Ageing, Development and Social Protection

Case Study by Vladislav Bezrukov & Natalia Foigt

  • Project from: 2001 to 2003

THE IMPACT OF TRANSITION ON OLDER PEOPLE IN THE UKRAINE: THE LOOK IN A FUTURE WITH HOPE

ABSTRACT

After the split of the Soviet Union, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, have taken a road of the construction of an open democratic society. In systemic reforming, some countries of this region have managed to overcome the negative consequences of transition and to lay the foundations for a future prosperity. Today's Ukraine has coped with the hyperinflation, and a relative stabilization of prices was gained. Despite a continuous decline in production, the absolute value of budget assignments for social needs is long kept unchanged, and their share in the budget even increased by 1996. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian economy still faces a crisis, making the rate of human development significantly lower than in the developed countries (According to the UNDP rating, in 2000 Ukraine occupied a 91st place by this index in the world).

The former social arrangement, in which the political and civil rights were jeopardized while the economic and social rights were supported and developed by state, is slowly giving way to a new order, providing for a freedom of conviction, self-expression and organisation, but not ensuring a social protection. In the period of transition there was a sharp fall in the level of average income, being accompanied with the disappearance of cheap food and goods, for production of which the state allocated special resources during the time of former regimen. Although the old age pensions are paid by the state, they let people live near the poverty line. In the case of the rural elderly, these small pensions are paid with a long delay. The former social welfare system has been markedly disorganized, and many of major state social services became paid or partially privatised and thereby became more costly. The level of health care sharply decreased, and some of the state-owned facilities turned into private ones, being affordable to only well-to-do citizens.

Among negative impacts of the transition on elderly people, like on the whole population, are the human losses, being reflected in the depopulation process and reduced life expectancy. Between 1991 and 2000, the Ukrainian population reduced by 2.1 million people making total population 49.7 million, and life expectancy at 65 decreased from 14.86 years to 13.86 years. The second negative consequence is the rise of morbidity. Changes in the morbidity structure and hence in the structure of mortality by causes (growth and shift to younger ages in the morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular diseases, neoplasmas, endocrine diseases, etc.) indicate the acceleration of individual aging processes.

Since the real cost of pensions is lesser than the real cost of salaries, decreases in the real income are very significant for pensioners. An unprecedented growth of the poverty among elderly people, as one more consequence of the transitional period, in turn, became the cause of an unbalanced and insufficient nutrition up to starvation as well as the spread among them of "poverty disease" - tuberculosis, other infectious diseases, food poisoning. The hopeless social isolation caused by poverty pushes an increasing number of elderly to commit suicide. (In 1989-1999 the suicide rate for elderly increased by 29%).

Absolute poverty of elderly is enhanced by the rise in income and well-being inequality that forms a so-called relative poverty of the old. The inequality reflects the shift in incomes distribution from labour to capital, and an increasing gap in the earnings level. The growth of such inequality is both a result and a precondition for an uneven rise of prices, during which the cheap goods and services, consumed by the elderly, go up in price quicker than the others.

A disadvantaged position of the elderly is aggravated by another consequence of the transition, namely: the growing unemployment, limiting the chances of finding a paid job by the workers beyond a working age. Inequality and even open age discrimination of the elderly on a labour market adds not only to their economic deprivation, but also to their social isolation thereby leading to the loss of human dignity.

Hard economic position of the elderly during transition becomes even worse due to the exacerbation of social problems: gender, familial and public. Thus, if during the Soviet epoch the system of quotas had permitted women to hold positions, allowing them to participate in taking decisions, both in political and in economic spheres, with the advent of a more democratic regime, paradoxical as it may seem, the number of women, holding such positions, is reduced. Such an achievement of the socialism as the earlier age of eligibility for pensions for women versus men (60 years for men and 55 years for women in major professions) has turned into a legislative trap for women, thus reducing for them the period of earning their living by five years. The current economy of Ukraine does not engage an intellectual and professional potential of the elderly women: with an almost equal educational structure of older men and women, as a whole, there is a greater engagement in economic of elderly men with higher education.

Under pressure of the economic crisis, processes of nuptiality and fertility undergo changes, and the family structure is distorted. In the context of social problems of the elderly, such tendencies show up in the rise of the number of two-generational families, which include the aging parents and the unmarried children of marriageable age, the spread of unstable civic marriages both among elderly and young people. The latter phenomenon in a young family reduces the probability of childbirth, that against a background of the dramatic fall in birth-rates (during the last decade the birth-rate has declined by 42%) additionally limits the possibilities for elders of being grandparents. Lack of economic freedom, reinforced by the lack of living space due to a housing deficit, produces an interfamily tension, a disintegration and intra-generational conflicts, that affects the most vulnerable family members - children and elderly.

Likewise, serious social problems of elderly have emerged in the community. The former mechanisms of social welfare distribution have created, through a system of privileges, an inequality among the elderly. The loss of such privileges during transition has enhanced the dissatisfaction with a new system among the significant part of older population. An expansion of newer ethic norms and values has caused a political and moral stratification of society, in which the elderly appear to be the bearers of out-of-dated totalitarian views. This has enhanced a social disintegration, as a whole, and a social isolation of the elderly, in particular.

The present social-economic state of elderly people in Ukraine remains hard. Nevertheless, certain positive shifts should be stressed. Annually, the real size of pensions increases, albeit slowly. Health care reforming has brought about the first modest improvement. Both public and private social welfare systems are gradually developing. The public is becoming increasingly aware of the positive role of elderly in the stabilisation of Ukrainian society. With generally low family incomes, the pension of elderly members plays a significant role in supporting younger generations. After the collapse of pre-school education, the presence of grandparents in the family is an important predisposition for the economic activity of childed women. Letting a house/flat of elderly members often gives a substantial financial support for the extended multigenerational family.

Despite an increasing unemployment in state-controlled production, the economic activity of older working people grows in the sphere of self-employment, the elderly get more involved in public life and politics. Of special note is the voluntary movement started and run by the war and labour veterans. Life quality studies conducted by the Institute of Gerontology in 2001 have shown that, compared to their Western counterparts, the Ukrainian elderly (though they get behind by many indicators) are still more mobile and physically independent. Besides, the personality openness (traditional for the former socialist society) helps the present-day elderly avoid the loneliness. They find more satisfaction in interrelations with family members, friends and acquaintances. Since the older population is heterogeneous, it is believed that part of them has already adapted themselves to new conditions. With the stabilisation of politics and economy, this process will further develop, and in the long run the majority of elderly will find their place in a new life, as this is now happening in Czech Republic, Poland and Baltic states. Many positive changes have taken place in the life of elderly in Russia. Now that much has been experienced, there is every reason for the older Ukrainians to look more optimistically into future.