The aim of this study was to determine whether functional ability among 65- to 79-year-old Finnish men and women changed at population level from the 1980s to 1990s and how gender, age, previous occupation, and marital status are associated with functional ability and whether these associations have changed over time.
Biennial surveys on health behaviour among Finnish elderly people were used to study 10,309 men and women from 1985 to 1999. Age, gender, previous occupation, and marital status were the demographic variables. Logistic regression was used to determine differences.
Functional ability deteriorated clearly with age, but was slightly better in the 1990s than 1980s. Gender differences of functional ability were small. Retired office employees had the best functional ability. Moreover, time changes of functional ability between occupational groups were a little more positive among men than among women. Functional ability of divorced and widowed elderly emerged as slightly worse than among married persons.
Young age and non-manual occupation prior to retirement were associated with better functional ability. The overall improvement of self-reported functional ability among elderly people suggests that the onset of disabilities could be postponed, especially if health-related circumstances were more evenly distributed at the start of or even before retirement age.