Introduction

This
essay will critically explore the cross-national policy analysis methodology
used by Kate Amelia Hamblin in her PhD thesis ‘Recommodification, policy
convergence and individual choice: an exploration of active ageing policies in
EU15 (1995-2005).’ She specifies three research questions for her thesis.
First, ‘to what extent was the EU’s vision of ‘active ageing’ adopted in EU15
nations between 1995 and 2005?’ Second, ‘what was the nature of policy reforms
in these nations over this time period?’ and Finally, ‘which sub-groups within
the older age cohort, which in her thesis is defined as between 50-74, were
subject to active ageing policies in these countries?’ We will discuss why this
methodology was used and also its strengths and weaknesses. Then, we will
discuss whether this methodology has answered to the research questions and
whether we would might improve or develop it.

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Ontological approach
to the population ageing

Her
ontological approach for population ageing is interpretivism approach, as she
defines ageing not only as a biological fact, but also, she mentions that
ageing can also be experienced through other individual characteristics such as
gender, class and ethnicity, and how each individual can be treated differently
based on these characteristics through life course. (Carr and Sheridan 2001;
Estes 1991b; Heinz 2001; Phillipson 2005). Kate Amelia Hamblin also argues how
a state is involved in the construction of old age, by using the political
economy of ageing argument, developed in 1970s out of economic crisis, that how
economic and political structures of the state determine the resource
distribution, which in turn, shapes the experience of ageing for each
individual (Bengtson et al.,2005b; Estes, 1999a). Estes (1999) says
“constructions of aging and the social policies that result not only reflect,
but also reproduce existing social class, gender, and racial and ethnic
disparities among the old. That is, social policy on aging presently does
little to alter or disturb the relations of power or the distribution of
economic and other resources in the society”. However, in her thesis, Hamblin
didn’t use the individualised approaches such as role disengagement and
continuity theories. Phillipson (2005) argues that individualised approaches,
neglect on the affect that social structure has on experiencing ageing.

 

How demographic
changes effect a state

Comparing
national policies to other countries is a very good way to get a better
understanding of the policy making processes and how effective they are in
homeland. The comparative study is especially suitable for studying European
countries, where there is an effort to establish common standards in many
public policy areas as a community which share common problems. (Antal et al
1996, 10). One of these problems comes from demographic changes in states, and
one of the most important demographic forces is population ageing. The
population of over 50 in European union is set to increase from 31.3% to 42.2%
and an increase from 19.7% to 26.7% for over 60 over the period from 1990 to
2020 (Pearson, 1996). The reason for population ageing is the fall of fertility
in addition to the early retirement which has become trending during period of
economic downturn. According to the empirical findings in Hamblin’s thesis, it
can be seen that the rate of population ageing is higher for developing
countries compared to developed countries (Hamblin, 2009). Population ageing
alters the balance between welfare consumers and contributors by declining the
working population and therefor, increasing the pressure on pensions systems
and health care (CEC, 1999). In addition to that, the demands are becoming
increasingly diversified for older individuals and the gender gap with respect
to poverty continues to increase to the disadvantage of women in old (CEC,
1999).

 

Methodology used by
Hamblin

Hamblin
mentions that if our knowledge of our social world originates from comparison,
then the sociology is argued to be implicitly comparative (Rose, 1991; Dogan and
Pelassy, 1990). One of Hamblin’s thesis strengths is that she mentions
different approaches to cross-national comparative methodology, and after
discussing the characteristics of each approach, she chooses the most
appropriate one. Since social policy formation is very complex with several
causal factors assuming that, EU’s active ageing model has caused a change in
national policies changes, would result in ‘crude empiricism’ (Doyal and
Harris, 1986 in Spicker, 2008). As a result, this thesis does not focus on
causation. In addition to that, because of ontology of population ageing, which
has interpretivism nature, no generalisations can be made since different
societies construct different definitions. Therefore, the approach that the
cross-national comparative methodology adopted, is largely depend on Hantrais’
(1999) societal approach, which is also used to examine theories regarding
recommodification and reserve army of labour by examining the way whether EU15
nations’ policies are similar or different. In addition to that, some elements
on Skocpol’s (1984) interpretive historical sociology strategy are also used by
Hamblin for her methodology. However, Skocpol’s (1984) interpretive historical
sociology approach has a weakness and that is, being prone to bias in the realm
of case selection since the ones which are more likely reveal dramatic
contrasts are chose by the researcher.

 

Cross-national
comparative research can be approached either inductive where, a theory is
arrived at following empirical examination or it can be deductive where theory
is a starting point and the empirical data utilised either to support or
dispute it. (p 85) Hamblin took a theory-led (Spicker, 2008) deductive
approach. As a starting point in her thesis, both of the recommodification and
reserve army of labour literatures agree that old individuals are drawn into
the labour market although the latter suggests that this process is repeatedly.
They also display that social policies are utilised according to the needs of
the market due to the embedded nature of the states and markets. In addition to
that, the effect of policy in experiencing the ageing is emphasized by the
political economy of ageing literature. Therefore, not necessarily all
individuals, in this research aged 50-74, are subjected to active ageing agenda
and remain deserving of decommodification.

She
attempts to find if there is a shift toward EU vision of ‘active ageing’ in
EU15 nations regarding policies for employment and retirement for older
individuals, by detailed analysing the researches carried by Jessop (1994,
1997, 1999, 2002) which presents a focused picture of policy change across
nations. The thesis examines whether a change in culture of a welfare from
decommodification to recommodification is evident and what is its function,
instead of reform process. As Carmel (1999) argues, understanding must precede
explanation, so, the focus will be on what has happened instead of why
something has happened.

 

 

15
nations, were Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece,
Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United
Kingdom as part of EU15 were selected for comparison according to Sartori’s
(1994: 17) argument ”the comparisons in which we sensibly and actually engage
are thus those between entities whose attributes are in part shaped (similar)
and in part non-shared (and thus, we say, incomparable)”. The similarities are
that, these nations are all part of European union with some common goals,
similar demographic changes (in different degrees as shown in tables 3.1 and
3.2 in the thesis). The nations not only differ because of inguistical and
cultural aspects but also because of the structure of policies adopted
regarding older individuals, which should not be overemphasised with EU’s
causal relationship. Hamblin did not choose existing typologies of welfare
state as a method of selecting nations for comparison since it arises two main
problems: focus on social insurance and ignoring the role of personal social
services, bias towards the interaction of states and markets and neglectingthe
private sphere of family and kin. Hamblin also mentions some limitations as to
why this method like out of date data argued by Bradshaw et al. (1993) or the
variety of period of data collection cross-nationally (2009: p99). For
empirical data collection, Hamblin first established the policies for
employment and retirement available in 1995 and then examined how they changed
over the 10 years. By analysing 10 years of static data which provide clear
indicators of the EU’s vision of active ageing, she avoids criticism regarding
the criteria used being vogue (2009: p100). Also, at five yearly junctures, in
order to prevent research to turn into a static policy analysis approach, in
addition to the character of the undertaken reforms, Hamblin (2009: p107) also
considered policies. In addition to that the empirical data were gathered from
various resources and a database of five policy areas in a period of ten years,
for each one of the EU15 nations was made (2009: p295), which in turn, while
emphasizing the complexity of the associated issues, provides readers a range
of valuable statistics.

 

How is the methodology
appropriate for research questions and aims?

Hamblin
uses Rose’s argument (1991), that comprativists should approach their case of
study with three questions: ‘first, to what extent are the nations similar?
Second, when do differences occur? Finally, what are the consequences of these
observed differences?’ By setting these three questions as a core of her thesis
(2009: p98) a comparative approach is necessary to answer her questions.

 

Hamblin
introduces three main questions to her research:

”- Are
all nations converging towards the EU-vision of active ageing?

– What
was the nature of reforms undertaken in these nations over this time period?

– Are
all individuals within the category of ‘older age’ equally subject to active
ageing

policies?”
(Hamblin, 2009)

 

Subsequent
aims of these questions are:

”- to
examine the adoption of ‘active ageing’ policies in EU15 nations – the spatial-

temporal
element;

– to
examine the character of the policy changes over time (1995 to 2005)- the

historical-dynamic
element;

– to
address whether specific groups within the older age cohort are treated

differentially
by these policies- the normative element.” (Hamblin, 2009)

 

In her
research, Hamblin (2009) completely explains each one of the research aims, and
discusses suitable methods to answer subsequent questions. For example, model
biographies were introduced for the normative aspect of the research aims. For
biography models two different ages and histories were introduced by Hamblin
(2009) to create different policy experiences. 
Also with regard to work and retirement policies in the EU15 nations,
gender was also explored to analyse normative aim completely. In addition to
that the cross-national comparative analysis was carried at both macro and
micro level in order to satisfy research questions. As for the first question
” Are all nations converging towards the EU-vision of active ageing?”, a
macro level analysis shows a progress towards EU’s active ageing agenda,
although it does not mean that there are same or similar policy packages for
older individuals by 2005 (2009: p293). Also, as for the second question,
”What was the nature of reforms undertaken in these nations over this time
period?”, which can also be achieved by macro level analysing, thesis suggests
that the pre-existence of decommodification which resulted in a distance that
some of these nations had to travel to achieve the goal, affected the speed
direction and final policy mixes. To answer the third question, at micro level,
the model biographies is responsible for providing more accounts of the
recommodification and reserve army of labour literature. From the start, it has
been clear that in in some nations individuals are divided in two groups,
worthy of decommodification and not worthy. Therefore, the saying that all the
older individuals are being recommodified and are part of the reserve army of
labour has been refined, in that some had more limited opportunities for
retirement (2009: p293). Hamblin (2009: p291) proposes a few contributions to
the thesis. First, in literature on the recommodification of labour, which
regarding to the policy treatment of older people can be refined; second, to
refine the reserve army of labour argument, which needs to be a more fluid and
have individual-focused approach instead of being just nuanced versions of the
recommodification. A further analysis for 2010 is desired as it will show
whether EU15 nations took a more cohesive active ageing approach.

 

 

Conclusion

The thesis used cross-national comparative analysis
methodology, to explore active ageing policies in EU15, by specifying three
research questions and their subsequent aims. The nations were not chosen based
on welfare, and empirical data were collected from various resources which
emphasize the complexity of the issue. In addition to that thesis was
constantly trying to be not bias by discussing many approaches which can be
used in methodology, but because they didn’t pursue same research aims they
were not used. The priority in this thesis was to understand the situation
rather than explaining it. In the empirical data gathering part of this thesis,
the scope of the statistical community and its time were very wide, which made
it difficult and time-consuming to analyse the data, particularly choosing 5
policy areas which featured the EU’s annual active model. But in turn a very
valuable statistical database in the case of each one of the EU15 nations was
gathered. Also having a smaller selection would have go against the explorative
nature of this thesis (2009: p288).