Being useful among persons aged over 65: social representations from a cross‑sectional European study

The world's population is ageing and the European continent is mainly affected by this phenomenon, which is expected to intensify in the coming decades. New issues emerge with this phenomenon and there is a compelling need to prepare our societies and healthcare systems to deal with the oncoming wave of population ageing.

It is important to highlight the place that older people wish to maintain in society, in particular their sense of usefulness, which is an important predictor of "successful ageing".

This survey was carried out in February 2016 by a polling institute in a representative sample of individuals from the population of retired persons in Germany, Belgium, France and Italy selected using quota sampling (sex, age, socio-professional category, region, city size, number of persons in household, autonomy, marital status, place of residence, income and educational status). All of the people selected responded to an internet questionnaire contained 57 questions to record their sociodemographic characteristics. Responses were analysed with principal components analysis (PCA).

A total of 4025 persons participated; 51% were males, and 70% were aged 65–75 years. PCA identified six classes of individuals, of which two classes (Classes 2 and 3) were characterized by more socially isolated individuals with little or no sense of usefulness, low self-esteem and a poor sense of well-being. These two classes accounted for almost 20% of the population. Younger and more autonomous classes reported a more salient sense of usefulness.

This study provides new insights into the perception that older European subjects have of their own usefulness. Furthermore, these findings suggest that a non-negligible proportion of older subjects (20%) should be targeted for specific interventions aimed at enhancing their feeling of utility, to improve and support their feeling of successful ageing.


Authors : Paul de Boissieu, Serge Guerin, Véronique Suissa, Fiona Ecarnot, Aude Letty, Stéphane Sanchez


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