Physical disabilities and poverty among Swedish elderly 

Gender differences and the association between physical disabilities and poverty among Swedish elderly


According to the EU, an individual is at risk of poverty if he or she is living in a household with an income of less than 60% of the median country’s income. In 2016, the at-risk-of-poverty threshold was approximately 141.000 SEK for a single-household and 212.000 SEK for a joint household (Andö, 2017). The rate of poverty in elderly aged 66+ in Sweden is generally low (9.5%) compared to the OECD average of 12.8% but it is increasing (Antczak & Zaidi, 2016; OECD, 2013). Having a monthly income below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold is more common among the elderly aged 75+ (Andö, 2017).


Indeed, Sweden has a low poverty rate but also a big gender gap. The financial situation between older men and women differs systematically (Antczak & Zaidi, 2016). Approximately one-third of the women aged 75+ are at risk of poverty compared to one out of seven men, who live at risk of poverty. According to Nygård, Härtull, Wentjärvi, and Jungerstam (2017) a stronger prevalence of objective and subjective income poverty among older women compared to men in 65, 70, 75 and 80-year-olds living in Västerbotten, Sweden, is detectable. This trend could be caused by living circumstances as well as the pensions of women. More women tend to live alone and have lower income jobs which lead to lower income in old ages (OECD, 2013).

Swedish Elderly, Physical disabilities and poverty among Swedish elderly 
Swedish Elderly


In Sweden, as in other European countries, the risk of experiencing age-related disability is higher among women than men. – Although, men are dying younger (Cambois, E., Solé‑Auró, A.,  &  Robine, J.M 2018; Hellström, Y. H. 2001). Referring to Oksuyzuan and colleagues the gender gap paradox is likely to be due to biological, sociological and behavioral factors (2010) therefore part of it can be explained by the gender-related propensity for differential diseases (Cambois et al 2018). According to Crimmins et al. (2011), women are more likely to get disabling conditions when again men are more prone to fatal diseases. 


Schön and Parker studied gender differences in health within the Swedish elderly and compared the data collected in 1992 and 2002. The conditions studied were Global Self-Rated Health, Leg Ulcers, Diabetes, Myocardial Infarction, Hypertension, Stress and Depression, Sleeplessness, General Fatigue, Musculoskeletal Pain, Hearing, Mobility, IADL, ADL, Performance, Peak Expiratory Flow, Cognition, and Vision. According to the study (2009) women, in general, suffered more morbidity than men, and the overall trend within the results was increasing morbidity among the elderly in 2002 compared to 1992. This was partly explained by lifestyle and cultural changes among the population such as increased tobacco consumption among women as well as the possibility for increased willingness among men to report poor health between these two cohorts.


According to Marengoni and colleagues’ study in 2008, the female gender is a factor increasing the risk of multimorbidity in elderly ages. It was independently associated with higher morbidity and multimorbidity. In this study elderly women showed higher levels of morbidity and multimorbidity in comparison with men. The study population was Swedish elderly people from 77 to 100 years of age (Marengoni, A., Winblad, B., Karp, A., & Fratiglioni, L. 2008). Based on Hellströn and colleague study in 2001, elderly women in Sweden complaint more about their health status in comparison to men. Women with no complaints were 1.7% while this number among men 4,6%. The main reasons for complaints were musculoskeletal pain and impaired mobility.


Gender differences with an association between physical disabilities and poverty are recognizable among Swedish elderly. Unequal distributions of resources, such as income or pensions, are important regarding these differences. According to Cambois et al. (2018), gender itself has a strong individual effect on later life morbidity. The study shows that economic hardship is also leading to an increased risk of disabilities. Economic hardships in this context mean the lack of financial or material resources, which increases the health risks, for instance, poor living conditions (Cambois et al. 2018).


Therefore it can be stated that the women living in poverty in older ages are more prone to disabilities compared to men because of poverty but also the gender which is shaped by biological, sociological and behavioural factors. Paying attention to gender differences in health studies enables to detect the factors underlying the gender-divided health outcomes (Schön et al. 2009).

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