IntroductionThisessay will critically explore the cross-national policy analysis methodologyused by Kate Amelia Hamblin in her PhD thesis ‘Recommodification, policyconvergence and individual choice: an exploration of active ageing policies inEU15 (1995-2005).’ She specifies three research questions for her thesis.First, ‘to what extent was the EU’s vision of ‘active ageing’ adopted in EU15nations between 1995 and 2005?’ Second, ‘what was the nature of policy reformsin these nations over this time period?’ and Finally, ‘which sub-groups withinthe older age cohort, which in her thesis is defined as between 50-74, weresubject to active ageing policies in these countries?’ We will discuss why thismethodology was used and also its strengths and weaknesses. Then, we willdiscuss whether this methodology has answered to the research questions andwhether we would might improve or develop it. Ontological approachto the population ageingHerontological approach for population ageing is interpretivism approach, as shedefines ageing not only as a biological fact, but also, she mentions thatageing can also be experienced through other individual characteristics such asgender, class and ethnicity, and how each individual can be treated differentlybased on these characteristics through life course. (Carr and Sheridan 2001;Estes 1991b; Heinz 2001; Phillipson 2005).
Kate Amelia Hamblin also argues howa state is involved in the construction of old age, by using the politicaleconomy of ageing argument, developed in 1970s out of economic crisis, that howeconomic and political structures of the state determine the resourcedistribution, which in turn, shapes the experience of ageing for eachindividual (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 ethnicdisparities among the old. That is, social policy on aging presently doeslittle to alter or disturb the relations of power or the distribution ofeconomic and other resources in the society”.
However, in her thesis, Hamblindidn’t use the individualised approaches such as role disengagement andcontinuity theories. Phillipson (2005) argues that individualised approaches,neglect on the affect that social structure has on experiencing ageing. How demographicchanges effect a stateComparingnational policies to other countries is a very good way to get a betterunderstanding of the policy making processes and how effective they are inhomeland. The comparative study is especially suitable for studying Europeancountries, where there is an effort to establish common standards in manypublic policy areas as a community which share common problems.
(Antal et al1996, 10). One of these problems comes from demographic changes in states, andone of the most important demographic forces is population ageing. Thepopulation 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 to2020 (Pearson, 1996). The reason for population ageing is the fall of fertilityin addition to the early retirement which has become trending during period ofeconomic downturn. According to the empirical findings in Hamblin’s thesis, itcan be seen that the rate of population ageing is higher for developingcountries compared to developed countries (Hamblin, 2009). Population ageingalters the balance between welfare consumers and contributors by declining theworking population and therefor, increasing the pressure on pensions systemsand health care (CEC, 1999). In addition to that, the demands are becomingincreasingly diversified for older individuals and the gender gap with respectto poverty continues to increase to the disadvantage of women in old (CEC,1999). Methodology used byHamblinHamblinmentions that if our knowledge of our social world originates from comparison,then the sociology is argued to be implicitly comparative (Rose, 1991; Dogan andPelassy, 1990). One of Hamblin’s thesis strengths is that she mentionsdifferent approaches to cross-national comparative methodology, and afterdiscussing the characteristics of each approach, she chooses the mostappropriate one.
Since social policy formation is very complex with severalcausal factors assuming that, EU’s active ageing model has caused a change innational policies changes, would result in ‘crude empiricism’ (Doyal andHarris, 1986 in Spicker, 2008). As a result, this thesis does not focus oncausation. In addition to that, because of ontology of population ageing, whichhas interpretivism nature, no generalisations can be made since differentsocieties construct different definitions. Therefore, the approach that thecross-national comparative methodology adopted, is largely depend on Hantrais'(1999) societal approach, which is also used to examine theories regardingrecommodification and reserve army of labour by examining the way whether EU15nations’ policies are similar or different.
In addition to that, some elementson Skocpol’s (1984) interpretive historical sociology strategy are also used byHamblin for her methodology. However, Skocpol’s (1984) interpretive historicalsociology approach has a weakness and that is, being prone to bias in the realmof case selection since the ones which are more likely reveal dramaticcontrasts are chose by the researcher. Cross-nationalcomparative research can be approached either inductive where, a theory isarrived at following empirical examination or it can be deductive where theoryis a starting point and the empirical data utilised either to support ordispute it.
(p 85) Hamblin took a theory-led (Spicker, 2008) deductiveapproach. As a starting point in her thesis, both of the recommodification andreserve army of labour literatures agree that old individuals are drawn intothe labour market although the latter suggests that this process is repeatedly.They also display that social policies are utilised according to the needs ofthe market due to the embedded nature of the states and markets. In addition tothat, the effect of policy in experiencing the ageing is emphasized by thepolitical economy of ageing literature. Therefore, not necessarily allindividuals, in this research aged 50-74, are subjected to active ageing agendaand remain deserving of decommodification.
Sheattempts to find if there is a shift toward EU vision of ‘active ageing’ inEU15 nations regarding policies for employment and retirement for olderindividuals, by detailed analysing the researches carried by Jessop (1994,1997, 1999, 2002) which presents a focused picture of policy change acrossnations. The thesis examines whether a change in culture of a welfare fromdecommodification to recommodification is evident and what is its function,instead of reform process. As Carmel (1999) argues, understanding must precedeexplanation, so, the focus will be on what has happened instead of whysomething has happened. 15nations, were Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece,Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UnitedKingdom as part of EU15 were selected for comparison according to Sartori’s(1994: 17) argument ”the comparisons in which we sensibly and actually engageare thus those between entities whose attributes are in part shaped (similar)and in part non-shared (and thus, we say, incomparable)”. The similarities arethat, these nations are all part of European union with some common goals,similar demographic changes (in different degrees as shown in tables 3.1 and3.
2 in the thesis). The nations not only differ because of inguistical andcultural aspects but also because of the structure of policies adoptedregarding older individuals, which should not be overemphasised with EU’scausal relationship. Hamblin did not choose existing typologies of welfarestate as a method of selecting nations for comparison since it arises two mainproblems: focus on social insurance and ignoring the role of personal socialservices, bias towards the interaction of states and markets and neglectingtheprivate sphere of family and kin. Hamblin also mentions some limitations as towhy this method like out of date data argued by Bradshaw et al. (1993) or thevariety of period of data collection cross-nationally (2009: p99). Forempirical data collection, Hamblin first established the policies foremployment and retirement available in 1995 and then examined how they changedover the 10 years. By analysing 10 years of static data which provide clearindicators of the EU’s vision of active ageing, she avoids criticism regardingthe criteria used being vogue (2009: p100). Also, at five yearly junctures, inorder to prevent research to turn into a static policy analysis approach, inaddition to the character of the undertaken reforms, Hamblin (2009: p107) alsoconsidered policies.
In addition to that the empirical data were gathered fromvarious 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, whileemphasizing the complexity of the associated issues, provides readers a rangeof valuable statistics. How is the methodologyappropriate for research questions and aims?Hamblinuses Rose’s argument (1991), that comprativists should approach their case ofstudy with three questions: ‘first, to what extent are the nations similar?Second, when do differences occur? Finally, what are the consequences of theseobserved differences?’ By setting these three questions as a core of her thesis(2009: p98) a comparative approach is necessary to answer her questions. Hamblinintroduces three main questions to her research:”- Areall nations converging towards the EU-vision of active ageing?- Whatwas the nature of reforms undertaken in these nations over this time period?- Areall individuals within the category of ‘older age’ equally subject to activeageingpolicies?”(Hamblin, 2009) Subsequentaims of these questions are:”- toexamine the adoption of ‘active ageing’ policies in EU15 nations – the spatial-temporalelement;- toexamine the character of the policy changes over time (1995 to 2005)- thehistorical-dynamicelement;- toaddress whether specific groups within the older age cohort are treateddifferentiallyby these policies- the normative element.” (Hamblin, 2009) In herresearch, Hamblin (2009) completely explains each one of the research aims, anddiscusses suitable methods to answer subsequent questions. For example, modelbiographies were introduced for the normative aspect of the research aims.
Forbiography 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 tothat the cross-national comparative analysis was carried at both macro andmicro level in order to satisfy research questions.
As for the first question” Are all nations converging towards the EU-vision of active ageing?”, amacro level analysis shows a progress towards EU’s active ageing agenda,although it does not mean that there are same or similar policy packages forolder individuals by 2005 (2009: p293). Also, as for the second question,”What was the nature of reforms undertaken in these nations over this timeperiod?”, which can also be achieved by macro level analysing, thesis suggeststhat the pre-existence of decommodification which resulted in a distance thatsome of these nations had to travel to achieve the goal, affected the speeddirection and final policy mixes. To answer the third question, at micro level,the model biographies is responsible for providing more accounts of therecommodification and reserve army of labour literature. From the start, it hasbeen clear that in in some nations individuals are divided in two groups,worthy of decommodification and not worthy. Therefore, the saying that all theolder individuals are being recommodified and are part of the reserve army oflabour has been refined, in that some had more limited opportunities forretirement (2009: p293).
Hamblin (2009: p291) proposes a few contributions tothe thesis. First, in literature on the recommodification of labour, whichregarding to the policy treatment of older people can be refined; second, torefine the reserve army of labour argument, which needs to be a more fluid andhave individual-focused approach instead of being just nuanced versions of therecommodification. A further analysis for 2010 is desired as it will showwhether EU15 nations took a more cohesive active ageing approach. ConclusionThe thesis used cross-national comparative analysismethodology, to explore active ageing policies in EU15, by specifying threeresearch questions and their subsequent aims. The nations were not chosen basedon welfare, and empirical data were collected from various resources whichemphasize the complexity of the issue.
In addition to that thesis wasconstantly trying to be not bias by discussing many approaches which can beused in methodology, but because they didn’t pursue same research aims theywere not used. The priority in this thesis was to understand the situationrather 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 madeit difficult and time-consuming to analyse the data, particularly choosing 5policy areas which featured the EU’s annual active model. But in turn a veryvaluable statistical database in the case of each one of the EU15 nations wasgathered. Also having a smaller selection would have go against the explorativenature of this thesis (2009: p288).