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Achieving world-class standards in all SHARE countries

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SHARE-DEV3 (Achieving world-class standards in all SHARE countries)

Reporting period: 2018-07-01 to 2019-06-30

Population ageing and its social and economic challenges to growth and prosperity are among the most pressing challenges of the 21st century in Europe. In order to address this challenge with scientific support, the European Council and the Parliament demanded an infrastructure of micro data covering the EU that combines information on health with the economic and social living conditions of individuals as they age and as they are exposed to the societal changes precipitated by the population ageing process (European Commission 2000).

SHARE, the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, was created in response to these demands. SHARE has a great impact measured by the number of users, the number of scientific publications and its public policy support. The data has world-class value as proven by the many users also outside of the EU, especially in the US. The key value of SHARE lies in its strict cross-national comparability which permits unbiased cross-national comparisons of the economic, health and social living conditions of the European population aged 50 and over in all EU countries, Switzerland and Israel.

SHARE requires strong international coordination to ensure the cross-national harmonisation of questionnaire development and data collection and in order to avoid artefacts due to cross-national differences in survey methods. This SHARE-DEV3 project supported key international coordination tasks outside of Germany where SHARE is headquartered. Headquarter tasks were funded by the German government. Coordination tasks outside Germany include software maintenance and IT support, questionnaire development, database management and related common tasks.

Furthermore, the SHARE-DEV3 project supported the data collection in five crisis countries to fulfil the aim of European Coverage. On the one hand, these countries are particularly interesting research objects for economists and social scientists, e.g. Greece that suffers from the double burden of rapid population ageing and high debt. On the other hand, these countries were not willing (or able) to participate in SHARE. In addition to budget difficulties, some countries do not have a sufficient number of well-trained empirical economists and social scientists to incentivise national science ministries or research councils to finance SHARE. This lack of national interest is in contradiction to the interests of other Member States’ researchers and the Commission’s policy DGs in that country.

The aim of this project was thus to ensure that also these countries are covered by SHARE, and that their contribution to overall coordination is secured. The funding of this project in 2015 through 2019 has been concentrated to the instable portion of the SHARE operations, while all other core data collection and accompanying logistical coordination activities were financed by the members of the SHARE-ERIC according to Article 9 of its Statutes.
During the reporting period of SHARE-DEV3, the project performed a combination of operating and innovation tasks such as:
• The questionnaire was revised and updated, separated in core and varying modules, included re-designed life histories, then tested and programmed on a new software platform.
• As one of the independent modules, an in-depth measurement of cognition and mild, moderate, and severe cognitive impairment was added in Wave 8 in close coordination with the US Health and Retirement Study.
• The technical architecture of the software was enhanced to cope with and benefit from changes in technical needs and practices for a survey like SHARE.
• Data collection of the core survey in 2016/2017 in the five crisis countries was supported: Spain and Portugal in the South, Croatia and Hungary in the East, as well as Greece, where—although it is already member of SHARE-ERIC—funding SHARE was impossible due to the economic and financial crisis.
• Life-history data was successfully collected in all 28 SHARE member countries. The life histories have greatly enlarged the value of the data collected in earlier waves. Along with the life histories collected in Wave 3, SHARE now features about 74,000 retrospective life histories.
• Wave 7 as well as an update of all previous SHARE waves were made publicly available to the scientific community in April 2019.
• In June 2019, the First Results Book of Waves 6 and 7 entitled “Health and socio-economic status over the life course” was released in Brussels. The full book is available as open access.

Hence, all operational aims have been achieved in full.
The SHARE-DEV3 project was an important element of the overall SHARE project. Its main impact is the impact of SHARE itself, which provides an infrastructure of data permitting researchers to help matching the challenges of population aging, both in terms of empirical research and evidence-based policy decisions. During this specific project’s duration, the number of users has almost doubled and will soon reach 10,000 scientists worldwide. SHARE has been used widely by the EU Commission and Member States’ governments in designing and evaluating health care, long-term care, pension and labour market policies.

One of the specific impacts of this project—namely the coverage of all EU Member States by SHARE as demanded by policy DGs such as DG Employment and DG Economic and Financial Affairs—was achieved in full. European Coverage is a necessity for evidence-based policy on the EU level for three reasons: no Member State should be disadvantaged; the EU Commission should be in a position to compare all Member States with each other; country-specific policy recommendations should cover all Member States.

European Coverage is not possible without support by the European Union. This project has supplied the necessary support and thus achieved this important aim. EU Coverage was attained by the cooperation between three parties: (a) those SHARE member countries that fund their own survey, (b) DG RTD which funds the survey in research-relevant countries without sufficient self-interest, and (c) DG EMPL which funds new countries to achieve European Coverage.

Even though future framework programmes still have to provide for stable ways of common funding, the SHARE-DEV3 project has laid a solid basis for the continuation of the study across all Member States.