MIDDLE aged people living in Slovakia are often less active in the labour market and tend not to have hobbies or interests that would prevent them from becoming lonely or spending all their time in front of the TV. In fact, experts are now sounding the alarm about the need for Slovaks to learn about active aging so as to lead more productive and meaningful lives.

Active aging and its virtual non-existence in Slovakia is the focus of a book recently published by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), The Fourth Dimension of the Third Age.

The book’s authors was led by sociologist Zora Bútorová and comprised of Jarmila Filadelfiová, Bernardína Bodnárová, Peter Guráň and Sylvia Šumšalová. It deals with topics that are discussed only marginally in Slovakia: the lives of middle aged people and their role in society.

The book is part of a research project focusing on active aging as a tool to empower middle aged people in Slovakia and to give them a chance to use their potential.

“For Slovakia, whose population is aging intensively, there is an urgent challenge to support the development and use of the potential of people of all ages, including older people,” Bútorová wrote, explaining that the concept of active aging is key to achieving this aim.

The book explores the reasons why Slovakia lags behind in terms of using the potential of middle aged people - those aged 45-64 - and thus not pensioners. This is a group of people who could benefit society much more if their potential is maintained and developed now.

Slovakia ranks low

In a recent Global AgeWatch Index study on the quality of life of the elderly, Slovakia ranked 49th out of 91 countries, placing close to Bulgaria and Romania, lower than the Czech Republic (25) and Hungary (41), but higher than Poland (62). Sweden tops the ranking, followed by Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada.

The authors of the Fourth Dimension of the Third Age see the situation in Slovakia as alarming, as Slovakia lags behind most EU countries in applying the concept of active aging, as seen from the Global AgeWatch Index.

The ranking evaluates countries in four domains: income security, health status, employment and education, and enabling societies and environment, and Slovakia scored relatively low in all of them.

The overall ranking places Slovakia 24th out of 27 EU countries.

“It [the situation] is the most serious in the health domain, where we ranked worst among all EU countries,” Bernardína Bodnárová, one of the book’s authors, told a press conference, as quoted by the TASR newswire. Men and women in Slovakia live only 52 years in full health, which is 10 years less than the EU average.

“This is mainly caused by smoking, obesity, a lack of physical activity, disregard for a healthy diet, and stress at work and in personal relations,” Bodnárová said.

People over 60 years of age made up slightly more than 20 percent of Slovakia’s population in 2012, according to the data in the Global AgeWatch Index. In 2050, the number is expected to rise to over 35 percent.

In August 2013, the state-run social insurer Sociálna Poisťovňa paid out pensions to over 978,000 people amounting to more than €392 million, according to its spokesperson Peter Višváder.

The law sets the pension age at 62 for both men and women, but this only applies to men born in 1946 or later, and women born in 1962 or later.

Previously, men were retiring at 60 while women were retiring at 53-57, depending on the number of children they raised.

Participation in the labour market is also seen as a serious problem for seniors in Slovakia. It is one of the areas of life, alongside health care and public offices, where the Slovak public believes elderly people are discriminated against the most, according to the findings published in the book.
“The concept of active aging is very important and it does not only concern elderly people,” Bútorová said, as quoted by TASR. “One needs to change one’s approach to one’s age much earlier.”