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Living conditions and everyday life of retirees living in relative poverty


One in four Danish retirees – approximately 250,000 people – are living almost exclusively on their state pension. Nevertheless, research on this relatively large group living without supplementary income is inadequate. A new PhD project is to analyze the living conditions and everyday life of this group of the elderly. The project is supported by SFI and the EGV foundation (Ensomme Gamles Værn – the foundation for social inclusion of the elderly).

The demographic changes seen in the 1990’s that have resulted in an increasing percentage of elderly in the European countries have given rise to political reforms of the European pension systems. As a consequence, in the future, pension payments will to a greater extent depend on contributory pension systems (i.e. labour market pensions and private pensions) and to a lesser extent on non-contributory pension systems. 

Although in Europe, a great deal of research has been conducted on the economic effects of the pension reforms, research on the effects that these reforms have on non-economic living conditions and on everyday life remains an underexposed field.

Research questions

The PhD will focus on the following research questions:

1. How do retirees with supplementary income differ statistically from retirees with no supplementary income with regard to non-economic living conditions? What are the correlations between income and other living conditions?

2. How do retirees with no supplementary income ascribe meaning to different incidents and experiences in their life course? How do they cope with their life situation?

3. What kind of social consequences can be found in relation to the economic and non-economic living conditions among retirees with no supplementary income?

Empirical methods

The project consists of both quantitative and qualitative methods.

The quantitative part covers the frequency of relative poverty among retirees, and analyses connections between relative poverty and other (non-economic) living conditions (research question 1).

The qualitative part covers the meanings which poor retirees attribute to former incidents in their life course; in which ways they experience deprivations in their everyday life; and how they manage to cope with their life situation (research question 2). The third research question is answered using mixed methods, i.e. data from both the quantitative and the qualitative part.

Survey data and life stories

Data for the quantitative part consists of survey and register data: The Danish Longitudinal Study of Aging, which is a longitudinal survey of the Danish population above the age of 50. The survey covers a number of areas, e.g. income, wealth, pension planning, health, family, work life, housework and leisure activities, and care received and given. The first wave was conducted in 1997, and a new wave is conducted every five years. This project uses data from the most recent wave conducted in 2012.

This survey will be linked to Danish registers on demographics, household, immigrants, former employment, personal finances, social conditions, use of prescription drugs, hospitalizations, outpatient appointments, diagnoses and cause of death.

Data for the qualitative part consists of life story interviews with retirees living in relative poverty. The object of the life story interviews is to achieve an in-depth understanding of the conditions and incidents which might have influenced the interviewee’s current economic situation, and to achieve an in depth understanding of how the interviewees’ living conditions affect their everyday life. The qualitative life story interview will include questions on deprivation – if and how they experience material and/or social deprivation in their everyday life.

The project will be carried out at SFI between April 2014 and March 2017. 

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