Gunilla Kulla has studied how older Finland-Swedes perceived their health. The Finland-Swedes are Finnish residents with Swedish as their mother tongue. They belong to a minority group in Finland. The research included both older Finland-Swedes living in Finland and those who had immigrated to Sweden. In addition, a group of Finnish-speaking immigrants was included for comparative purposes. The research material was collected through surveys and interviews in Finland (207) and Sweden (827). A total of 983 older persons participated.

The thesis showed that the older Finland-Swedes in Finland considered their health to be good. Own personality, physical health and functional ability, social relationships, community and a good economy had a significant impact on how they perceived their health.
– The biggest surprise was the relationship between good health and a good economy, says Kulla. The studied group was fairly homogenous in that regard – all were born before World War II and the differences in economic performance were not substantial. In addition, the previous studies showed that the economic status had no impact on how older Finland-Swedes experienced their health. Therefore, it is not clear how to interpret this.

The older Finland-Swedes who had immigrated to Sweden rated their health better than the Finnish-speaking immigrants. They worked two years longer than the Finnish-speaking immigrants and retired less frequently because of illness.
– This is consistent with previous studies from Finland, says Kulla. It has been found that the Finland-Swedes, the minority comprising less than 6 % of Finns, perceived their health as better than the Finnish-speaking majority population. The researchers found no clear explanation for this. There might be a combination of genes, living habits and, what is called, social capital. Apparently the differences remained when the groups moved to Sweden, reasons Kulla.

The results also showed that the return to Finland could pose a burden on older people’s health. Some of those who had moved back as pensioners experienced the return migration difficult. Among those who chose to remain in Sweden, many felt that it was too late to move back. They were already too old and their health might not sustain such a transformative process.
– Many immigrants thought that they should move back to their country of origin when they retire, says Gunilla Kulla. But health problems can make it difficult or impossible to return.

Return migration to Finland could also lead to negative surprises.
– After the return they may no longer manage to maintain their social contacts in Sweden. And it may no longer be possible to visit friends in Sweden as planned, says Kulla.

In conclusion, it may be noted that it is important to be observant of the differences in health both between minorities and within minorities.
– Social and cultural differences can affect how older people rate and perceive their health, says Kulla. In Sweden, there are a multitude of minority groups with an increasing number of older persons. This will also become topical in Finland in the near future.
– Is it so that we see immigrants and minorities as a homogeneous group? Or are we able to see the individual, cultural and social context in which the older persons reflect their health? Kulla concludes.

Gunilla Kulla works as a Senior Lecturer at Novia, University of Applied Sciences, Vasa, Finland.

Thesis: Aging, Health, Minority – Older Finland-Swedes in Finland and Sweden
Author: Gunilla Kulla
Phone: +358 50 345 22 30 (home), E-mail: gunilla.kulla@pp.inet.fi
Supervisor: Anneli Sarvimäki, +358 9 61 22 61 28, Associate Professor, Research Director, Age Institute, Helsinki, Finland.
Co-supervisor: Sirkka-Liisa Ekman, +46 708 49 56 04, Professor, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm. Sweden.
Opponent: Associate professor Peter Öberg, University of Gävle, Sweden.
Date and place of disputation: Friday, November 6th 2009, at 13.00 in the Assembly Hall, NHV.
Address: 25 Fredrik Blom st., Nya Varvet, Gothenburg, Sweden

The dissertation can be ordered at kirsi.gomes@nhv.se Price: 150 SEK excluding postage