Recommodification, policy convergence and individual choice: an exploration of active ageing policies in EU15 (1995-2005)

  • Kate Hamblin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This PhD thesis addresses three questions. 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? Finally, which sub-groups within the older age cohort (here defined as between 50-74)1 were subject to active ageing policies in these countries? The methodology employed was cross-national policy analysis of EU15 nations’ policies for employment and retirement, encompassing the retention and re-engagement of older individuals in the labour market. The policy areas included are unemployment benefits, active labour market policies, state pension ages, early retirement routes and incentives for the deferral of pension receipt, in line with the EU targets and guidelines regarding ‘active ageing’. In addition, model biographies (divided according to age and contribution records) were employed to address the differential policy treatment of individuals within the older age cohort in terms of the various eligibility criteria and policy options available over the ten year period.The data indicates that though EU15 nations have made progress towards the EU policy prescriptions for active ageing, there is variation in a number of respects. First, nations differed in terms of their policy contexts, and as a result had lesser or greater distances to travel towards the EU vision of active ageing. Second, and related, these policy contexts to a degree directed subsequent national reforms and retrenchment, thus resulting in different policy approaches. Finally, at the micro-level, there is variation with regard to the policy treatment of individuals within the age cohort in EU15 nations. As a result, the active ageing policy logic is applied to older individuals differently.In terms of its contributions to knowledge, this thesis therefore provides more nuanced accounts of both the recommodification and reserve army of labour literatures. The recommodification of labour argument suggests that nations are moving away from decommodifying welfare arrangements to focus on the recommodification of labour yet the data demonstrate a great deal of variation in EU15 nations, in terms of their original policies for decommodification, their subsequent retrenchment and the type of policies introduced that recommodify labour. With regard to the reserve army of labour literature, the shift towards active ageing policies is part of a cyclical process whereby older workers are drawn into and ejected from the labour markets in periods of low and high unemployment respectively. The data however indicate that as the political economy of ageing literature suggests, ageing is not a homogenous experience and differential policy treatment within age cohorts maintains and exacerbates divergence at the micro level. Thus whilst the recommodification and reserve army of labour literatures suggest all individuals are being drawn into the labour market, the data emphasises differences at the micro level in terms of policy treatment, in line with the political economy of ageing literature
Date of Award1 Sept 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTheodoros Papadopoulos (Supervisor) & Emma Carmel (Supervisor)


  • recommodification
  • EU-15
  • active aging

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