Life expectancy at birth: 76.3 years (male: 72.9 years; female: 80 years)
Retirement age: 63 years for women and 65 for men;
Average pension – 1,666 Romanian lei in 2021 ($364 USD)
In light of Europe's rising demographic challenges, Romania stands out as a distinctive and compelling case study. Eurostat projections anticipate a notable shift within the European Union, projecting that the proportion of individuals aged over 65 will surge to nearly 29% by 2050, a significant increase from 19.7% in 2018. This demographic transformation, coupled with Romania's elevated disability rates among seniors—the second highest in the EU— paints a nuanced portrait of the elderly's experiences in the nation.
Romania ranks second in the EU per the number of elders living with different disabilities. Most of them reported that they have issues with walking, and others suffer from vision or hearing problems .
Furthermore, Romania's older workforce defies regional norms, maintaining a substantial presence beyond the age of 65, while a notable portion faces social marginalization and financial hardships, especially in rural areas.
Our enlightening conversation with Ana Murray, the Country Director at Ashoka Romania, reveals the pressing issues at hand. Murray emphasizes the unfair perception of older adults in Romania as a social and economic liability, exacerbated by low fertility rates and increasing dependency ratios. Her tireless advocacy through Ashoka's mission confronts the intricate socio-economic obstacles faced by older adults, shedding light on the complex interplay between historical contexts and contemporary challenges.
While a commendably high percentage of seniors actively participate in the labor market beyond the age of 65, challenges persist, especially among those from the urban middle class. This group of the population is struggling to "make ends meet." Murray perceptively notes a yearning for the past among the older generation, evoking nostalgia for the Communist era when socio-economic disparities were less stark. This observation adds depth to our understanding of the complex interplay between historical contexts and the current economic challenges faced by Romania's aging population.
The Romanian economy and scarce resources for supporting the older population have shifted the economic burden onto adult children. Adult children, often named “The Sandwich Generation”, struggle to support both their children and aging parents. Murray notes a distinct difference in attitudes between those born before the 1960s and the younger generations. While older adults are subscribing to a mentality of struggle and sacrifice, the younger generation seeks immediate rewards for short-term efforts. These generational divergences extend to parenting styles, with older adults favoring a conservative approach, while younger parents employ a more "helicopter" style of raising their children.
Social Marginalization of Older adults in Romania
Another challenge faced by Romania's elderly, particularly those in rural areas, is social marginalization and restricted access to healthcare and financial services. A 2011 study highlighted the inadequacy of pension, healthcare, and social protection systems to meet older Romanians' specific needs, a problem echoed by Murray. Comparing Romania's social protection measures with the EU reveals a development lag, marked by scarce public services, insufficient budget allocations, inadequate collaboration between public and private sectors, and frequent service overlaps.
Recalling that the formative years of Romania's current aging population were during the Communist era, the country underwent a turbulent transition to a parliamentary republic with an accelerated capitalist economy. Following the violent revolution in 1989, this upheaval resulted in a decrease in birth rates. The resilience that carried older adults through the political upheaval in their formative years continues to shape their lives, providing a beacon of hope for the future. Murray sees promise in the growing interest among university students in developing products and tools to support the aging population, reflecting an encouraging societal shift towards recognizing their potential.
Towards an "Aging-in-Place" Service for the Elderly
The Government's approval of the national strategy on long-term care and active aging for the period 2023-2030 underscores Romania's commitment to promoting independent living among older citizens.
In response to the growing challenges posed by the aging population, the Romanian Government has initiated a comprehensive strategy to address the escalating need for long-term care (LTC). According to a recent paper by the WB (2013), the existing focus on residential care has left a void in community based LTC services. The overarching vision is to ensure that the elderly in enjoy a decent and dignified life while exercising autonomy and choice. Acknowledging significant challenges, the newly proposed LTC Strategy for 2023-2030 intends to bridge these gaps by developing a continuum of services, while striving to make personalized and integrated medical and social care the norm over the next decade.
The LTC strategy for 2023-2030 was approved by the Government at the end of 2022, with the main target of increasing in the number of older individuals capable of living independently for as long as possible. This initiative responds to the significant reported need for care particularly in rural areas where access to preventive health services is limited. With a focus on preventing institutionalization, the strategy envisions the establishment of 71 day-care and assistance centers for dependent elderly people, while encouraging greater involvement of family members in the care process.
Addressing the Sustainability of the Pension system in the Country
The recent pension reform reflects a crucial balance between fiscal responsibility and social equity in Romania's pension system.
Regarding pensions, Romania has a category of so-called “special pensions”, which are granted to the previous employees from the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Defence, special services, diplomats or ex-members of the Parliament. With pension expenses accounting for around 8% of the GDP, and like many other countries, the current system is not sustainable. Therefore, Romania decided to take the needed steps to reform the pension system under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan initiative by the European Commission.
The objective of this plan is to achieve equity among citizens by reducing the gap between private and public pensions, thereby decreasing budget expenditures. The recent legal amendments, adopted in December 2022, outline changes such as calculating pensions based on seniority, setting a minimum contribution period, capping pension values at the basic salary, and eliminating bonuses from calculations.
To sum up, there is still substantial work to be done in addressing the challenges faced by Romania's aging population. Under the leadership of Murray, Ashoka Romania is actively engaged in efforts to bridge these gaps by disseminating knowledge and utilizing Ashoka's global network. The organization's commitment to fostering positive change is evident in its multifaceted approach. While progress has been made, the uphill struggle to reshape the narrative for Romania's elderly persists. Building a robust and inclusive social support system, through collective endeavors, remains crucial in ensuring a dignified and empowered quality of life for Romania's aging population.
Bodogai, S. I., & Cutler, S. J. (2014). Aging in Romania: Research and public policy. The Gerontologist, 54(2), 147-152.
Central Intelligence Agency. (2024). Romania. The World Factbook. Retrieved in January 2024 from: https://cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/romania/
Euraxess.(n.d). Pensions and other social security rights. Retrieved in January 2024 from: https://euraxess.gov.ro/romania/information-assistance/pensions-and-other-social-security-rights
Ministry of Labor and Social Solidarity, Guvernul a adoptat legea de modificare a cadrului legal privind pensiile de serviciu, https://www.mmuncii.ro/j33/index.php/ro/comunicare/comunicate-de-presa/6820-cp-adoptare-lege-modif-cadru-legal-pensii-serviciu-28122022 (last visited 15 January 2024).