Family structures have become increasingly diverse. Unmarried parenthood, union separation and divorce are well known to impact the economic and social well-being of families and children. However, too little is known about how discontinuities in the family domain of the life course relate to well-being at older ages, how patterns differ by gender and whether social policies can compensate for adverse effects.
Discontinuation and disruption in employment biographies (e.g. caused by longer periods of unemployment or short-term, part-time or inadequately-paid work) do not only yield higher poverty risks during the working life, but also increase the risk of inadequate provision at old age. For most European countries, we know to what extent social disadvantages accumulate over the life course and how they could transfer into social inequalities at later ages. However, respective information about the Baltic Sea States is still scarce.
In times of economic and political crisis, many people tend to further postpone major life course transitions. This especially affects the lifetime chances of those exposed to adverse economic conditions, not only with regard to the entrance of young people into the labour market and their career development, but also in terms of family biographies and health status in later life. Adverse living conditions early in life and unhealthy behaviour (such as smoking and obesity) also influence overall health, functioning status and survival in old age. The economic crisis has led to the further increase in socio-economic inequalities, having an impact on divergences in demographic trends between and within countries.
Cross-national evidence about the determinants of health and survival at old age in the overall population and in specific groups, such as individuals with disabilities or those socio-economically disadvantaged, is also scarce for the Baltic countries. Understanding the reasons behind notable divergences in health trends among older people at the national and subnational levels would allow researchers to identify potential and major threats to the sustainability of future health improvements of entire populations.
The role of international migration in the process of demographic change is also still not fully understood. For example, forecasting migration flows (including circular and return migration) for the majority of countries is currently nearly impossible. The development of reliable predictions for migration flows under varying conditions at origin and destination locations should therefore be a top priority. More concrete knowledge about the motivation to migrate will shed light on the possibilities and challenges for the social inclusion of migrants.
Increasing national and international job mobility is often seen as the answer to ailing labour markets and lower public capacities for investments into infrastructures, particularly in less-developed, remote and depopulated regions of Europe. However, it is important to know more about those who do not have a desire to move because they cannot afford the costs of mobility or do not move for other reasons. In disadvantaged areas, stayers often have less access to appropriate health care, social services and education, and they are thus subject to a higher risk of social and economic exclusion because public provision of services cannot be sufficiently maintained. We also observe large regional disparities in the development of housing prices, with steep increases in metropolitan areas and advancing gentrification. These developments might have repercussions for well-being in old age since housing prices have a direct impact on the disposable income of retiree households.
This project aims to shed light on the issues raised above, with a particular focus on the Baltic Sea States. It will include population developments in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Russian Federation and Sweden. Iceland and Norway are also considered because they form part of the Northern European hemisphere and have adapted the Scandinavian welfare model.
For researchers in the social sciences, the Baltic Sea region is of particular interest as it forms a unique “laboratory” where demographic, socio-economic and political developments can be studied with a focus on various welfare regimes and value systems, in situations of socio-economic stability as well as in times of economic crisis and political pressure. Northern Europe has mostly remained under comparatively stable conditions and developed strong welfare state regimes under the prerequisites of market-driven economies. Most East European states, by contrast, have gone through dramatic changes during Soviet times and more so after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989/1990. While analysing the rapid changes since 1990 of the political, social and economic systems as “critical junctures” allows us to narrow the scope of policy interventions – when reforms directly affected population developments –, changing demographic patterns during the economic crisis shed light on how far economic drivers may or may not influence population developments.
However, the strong regional focus does not mean that the region should be analysed in isolation. The Baltic Sea region has always been entangled with the history of other European regions and non-European countries throughout the history of political alliances, wars and occupations, commercial relationships and sea trade, the exchange of knowledge, political and religious ideas, transfers between social systems, and, nota bene, family relationships and forced or voluntary migration. Here, the project will particularly benefit from the involvement of Population Europe, which will provide the project participants with the opportunity to discuss and disseminate their findings in a wider European context. This collaborative network of 30 leading demographic research centres throughout Europe, including a partner institute in Moscow and a collaboration partner in the U.S., is hosted by the Max Planck Society. Based on top research findings, Population Europe promotes comprehensive knowledge and new insights from population research and makes them easily accessible to policy makers, NGOs, scientists and other audiences interested in Europe’s demographic change. Thus, the project will be embedded in a strong interaction within a wider framework through collaborative research projects, participation in conferences and workshops and outreach activities.
In the framework of the project, information on social policies and data about the situation in the ten project countries to be studied will be collected and interlinked to other resources in Population Europe’s open-access data portal PERFAR (Population Europe Resource Finder and Archive). This portal currently offers a comprehensive collection of social policies and supporting legislation related to population developments in up to 16 European countries covering various areas (family, education, employment, health and migration), a catalogue with links to socio-economic and demographic data, and an online repository for related research publications. These tools enable the user to conduct comparative analyses of policies over space and time. PERFAR also makes it easy to find key graphs and tables from diverse data providers. It is useful for evidence-based decision-making and in-depth policy analysis, both of which largely depend on easy-to-find information and validated data. PERFAR is thus tailored not only to the needs of researchers, but also to form a valuable source of information for decision-makers, science journalists and anyone else interested in social policies and population change. This task will be coordinated by the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.
Furthermore, research data on the trends and patterns of regional mortality across the Baltic Sea States will be collected and continuously updated as part of the project. The data currently available is often scattered, inaccurate, incomplete or inconsistent. For that reason, it is highly important to support researchers with a reliable and open accessible source by compiling data at a detailed and consistent level.