‘Society is getting older’ — how often have we heard this statement! but it is mistaken. The lengthening of the life cycle, involving better physical and mental conditions in most cases, introduces us to a counter-ageing society, where the older generations are clearly ‘younger’ than they have been in the past (in Italian this is called the process of ‘svecchiamento’).
The rest of the developing world, where the generations of those under 30 and 20 years of age are still dominant, will soon (in two or three decades) achieve the demographic structure of the industrialized countries. In 2040, China will have a population of over-60-year-olds which, in percentage terms, will be greater than that of the United States. Such an estimate is reliable as the generations concerned have already been born. As in Japan or North America, we in Europe are in an advantageous position to prepare and manage a world which is living through the greatest social-demographic revolution in history; one which derives from the constant increase in life expectancy of two to three months per year. The challenge is tremendous: the achievement of decades of life — of good life — for humankind.
The following is just an introductory list of some of the key issues:
• First is the understanding and monitoring of scientific and technological advances in many scientific fields (biology, medicine, gerontology, communications, etc.).
• being active and ‘productive’ beyond 60-65 years of age can and must be a privilege and the best ‘medicine’ for a longer and better life.
• learning and education should be better integrated in all phases of the life cycle, well beyond 60 years of age.
The possibilities for society and economy should be better understood: we no longer live in an ‘industrial, manufacturing-based’ society, but one based on a ‘Service Economy’. over 80% of all types of work are services, even within traditionally manufacturing companies. This reduces the number of people required to perform physically and sometimes mentally painful jobs. studies have to be carried out to highlight employment demands and possibilities in the various service occupations and activities at all age classes and age cycles.
Each type of human activity is best performed within a certain age period: a tennis champion normally ‘retires’ before 30. The same applies to a theoretical mathematician, where the brain needs its full capacity for abstract reasoning. However, there has been an expolsion in the need for things to be done in education, health care, tourism and all related activities. There is great potential for work (paid or voluntary) for those over 60.
Education and learning then must be related not only to update one’s specialization, but also to better prepare for new types of activities more in tune with each age class. A key issue is to see part-time work or activities as a cornerstone around which to build the new welfare.
Concerning the situation of the welfare state in the various European countries, it is easy to detect huge differences. However, the basic social and economic problems are very similar all over and within the next two to three decades (let’s be cautious…) they will lead to more and more convergent and generally ‘European’ solutions.
Yes, longer life in better health will mean increased costs for research and treatments in this area. They might double in terms of percentage of GNP in some countries within the next 20 or 30 years. However, these costs have to be recognized as real added value in economic terms: longer life in better conditions. In the coming years this will be an important part of the increase in the wealth of nations.
The management of the welfare system, related to ‘retirement’ (due to age and/or other reasons) will require a clear understanding of a Four Pillars Strategy:
1. the maintenance of a sustainable pay-as-you-go system (usually a state organized system) which is at least partly based on a fiscal redistribution logic. It should be viewed as a partial, age-related application of the ‘negative income tax’ system.
2. capitalization system (there are many kinds and in some countries it is even compulsory — a trend which will grow).
3. personal individual savings and provisions of all sorts.
4. ‘part time’ work.
These four elements will, with time, be considered and promoted as complementary to one another. In this way the ‘costs’ of the ‘older’ will be lower and their employment will be facilitated; at the same time the dead-end-street of the younger generations, which should increasingly support the slack periods of the older ones, will be avoided.
These points and issues were the basic topics for the conference organized in Trieste-Duino on 21-23 October 2004. They are the inspiring reference for these EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE.
Tags: counter-ageing, Editorial, four pillars