1. The long-life society — a young generation’s view
The phenomenon of the long-life society is not a well-kept secret anymore. In fact, it is well-researched. Scientific projections on how life expectancy will increase over the next decades1 may be the most exact and reliable in current futurology, while other forecasts are often quite wrong. Hands-on measures to adapt health care and pension systems to the long-life phenomenon are on the way to being implemented in most countries2.
However, from the perspective of a younger generation, it often appears that the phenomenon of the counter-ageing society is seen from a ‘peak-of-life generation’s’ view. Implications of what demographic change and (counter-) ageing societies mean for the young generation of today — around 30 years old — are often missing. Ironically, it will be exactly this generation30 that will experience the peak of the upcoming demographic transition to a full extent. The phenomenon of the long-life society will shape our living conditions, working lives and culture over the next half century.
Moreover, the values that we cherish today with regard to the older sectors of the population will have a great influence on our future and on future generations. in our societies it is still possible to find expressions anchored in ancient traditions that valued wisdom and age. The institution of the family and cross-generational bonds remain important components in our life. Nonetheless, some of these expressions are weak and in decline in industrialised countries. For instance, raising awareness on the phenomenon of the long-life society may create opportunities to retain, nurture and reshape positive attitudes towards senior citizens.
2. Challenges ahead — the problematique for the next generation
The new generations that will be reaching the age of 55-60 have experienced a different process of maturity and independence. While many of our parents and grandparents started to work at the age of 16-18, young job seekers are gaining access to their first job and achieving economic independence at an average of 253. Among the causes are the higher employment rates and enhanced options in terms of advanced education and professional development. particular implications has the case of women living in societies who have experienced recent legal and social revolutions and wish to enter the labour market at a later age. Similarly, an increasing number of women who have dedicated the first decade of their ‘productive’ life to raising children nowadays feel free and able to initiate their professional development only in their 50s, 60s or even 70s.
Connected to the above are the changes in the traditional structure and concept of the family that involve alterations in social stereotypes and roles. We are currently witnessing the effects of a larger number of independent single women, family planning, more adoptions at a later age, the institutional recognition of homosexuality, etc. Neither the role of grandparents nor its interrelation with younger generations is immune from these modern realities. For instance, the pattern of responsibilities and obligations is undergoing a clear transformation. The care for and dependency of parents and grandparents is less immediately liable to become a private and individual matter. Similarly, with low birth rates and different lifestyles, the potential and traditional role of grandparents is undergoing changes. In any case, it is important to stress that these changes should not necessarily mean less cohesion and fewer self-aid systems. On the contrary, they could create important opportunities for a different kind of cohesion — that is broader —and autonomy — that is greater — of all population groups.
Facing and optimising contemporary changes will depend greatly on the opportunities offered to senior sectors of the population for a meaningful life beyond 60. In 2020, the generation30 will most likely reach a peak of their careers. Yet, at the age of 45-50, it will be time to think of what comes next: Will we face a couple of decades full of a fruitful mixture of working life, education and self-fulfilment? Or will we be quickly replaced by the then young generation and have to face long years of retirement without a chance of participating in society and being productive, yet also without adequate financial resources? Will we be pushed out of our working environment and active life as citizens because we simply became too old? In fact, it might be a little strange for young people to think about ageing and retirement. However, considering it now gives us the chance to set the course for our own future.
Beatriz Fernandez is a Fulbright scholar from Spain, LL.M. candidate and researcher at the American University Washington College of Law. Gordon Henrik Wollgam is a project manager and consultant. He is based in Zurich, Switzerland and mainly works for and with non-profit organisations. Both authors are members of tt30, the young think-tank of the Club of Rome. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
1 See Giarini, O. (2005): “The Challenge of Increasing Life Spans for Employment and Pension Schemes”, European Papers on the New Welfare, No. 1. How quickly will life experience actually increase? See World Economic Forum (2004): Living Happily Ever After: The Economic Implications of Ageing Societies, Geneva, p. 10, for some projections.
2 See World Economic Forum (2004): Living Happily Ever After: The Economic Implications of Ageing Societies, Geneva, p. 10, for some projections.
3 In recent years increasing global unemployment has hit young people hard. The number of unemployed youth increased steadily between 1993 and 2003, to reach a current high (though continuing to increase) of 88 million unemployed youths. This places the youth share of the total unemployed at 47%, a particularly troublesome figure given that youths make up only 25% of the working-age population. (Young people are defined by the United Nations as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years). cf. International Labor Office (2004): Global Employment Trends for Youth Report. Geneva, August.
Tags: fourth pillar, life cycle, new welfare, young generations