Facing Demographic Transition

5. Can Older People Be an Asset?
What is the value of older persons?
1. Creativity does not decrease with age. G. Verdi composed Othello, Falstaff and Ave Maria in his late 70ies and early 80ies, J.W. Goethe was writing Faust until his death in 83. B. Franklin invented bifocals when he was 78. Michelangelo was creative through his entire life and the Florentine Pietà and many other works were done just before he died, and he died when he was 89. Marc Chagall designed stain glass windows for the Hadassah-Hebrew Medical Center in Jerusalem and he died when he was 98. F. Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim museum when he was 90. A world famous cardio-surgeon Michael DeBakey is over 90 and still very active, as is architect Oscar Niemeyer who is over 100. In politics, naturally, there are even older persons. Churchill was 77 when he again became prime minister defeating the Labour party. And the list could go on and on.
The argument that old persons are more often ill and that illness reduces creativity is also not valid as demonstrated by one of the greatest living cosmologists S. Hawking. Also, L. van Beethoven was deaf when he composed the Ninth symphony. Claude Monet, Marry Cassat and Edgar Degas had cataracts and their eyesight worsened so much that it seems they painted from memory. Pierre Renoir suffered painful rheumatic arthritis. All of them continued their creative work.
2. Experience and wisdom increase with age. Retirees are good workers, they do not need health and retirement benefits (since they have already paid for them) and therefore, should be cheaper to employ and their employment can solve labour shortage. The US Bureau of labour statistics estimates that the growth of employment of persons older than 55 will be four times larger than the growth of overall employment apparently confirming this conjecture.
3. Older people should be able to take risks easier since they have experience and credentials. Galileo Galilei was 68 when he wrote ‘Il dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo’, I. Newton was in his 60ies when, as head of the Mint, he initiated a major monetary reform and Einstein was in his late years when he persisted in continuing to work on unified theory.
4. Older people have experienced failures and defeats and often have recovered and enjoyed success thereby increasing their confidence.
5. Globalisation requires long-term perspective and older people have a potential to grasp the long-term picture.
Older people have always been an essential part of society and even today they contribute through various non-monetized and non-monetizable works. Works and employment do ensure social connectiveness and that together with mental and physical activities yields long, healthy and happy life.

6. Box of New Tools
As we already stressed new tools should be developed in a bottom-up approach, but some suggestions could be useful. Here is a list of some suggested new tools:
1. Compartmentalization of work — is it good? The artificial division of life into airtight compartments education, employment, retirement — imposes arbitrary and unnecessary hardships on citizens. Workers should be encouraged to continue their formal education even after entering the workforce and continue to engage in productive work as long as they are physically capable and psychologically inclined. The idea of fixed retirement age ignores the increasing longevity and enhanced health of the elderly population and unnecessarily deprives them of the social and psychological satisfaction derived from productive employment. The issue of employment embraces the entire society – its values, culture, attitudes, expectations, organization and skills, as well as technology and public policy. Taking this wider perspective, ample means can be found for expanding employment through measures that accelerate development of society as a whole. Full employment is an achievable goal for most countries today. Each country will find its own best way taking advantage of its uniqueness. Low employment rate and high unemployment in most countries can be eliminated within 3-4 years by a triple helix12 approach that combines and integrates efforts by Government, Education-Research and Business – provided that the following essential conditions are met:
i) There must be a concerted decision, commitment and determination by all parties to do everything possible and necessary to eliminate unemployment on an urgent priority basis and to guarantee the right of every citizen — including older persons if they desire — to gainful employment.
ii) There must be a willingness to adopt fresh and innovating pragmatic approaches, completely rejecting the conventional wisdom that unemployment is inevitable.
iii) We must understand that the number of jobs created in a society is not subject to fixed laws of nature. It is a question of human choice. We should understand that societies, like businesses, utilize only a small portion of the social resources and opportunities that exist for job creation. These potentials: social resources and opportunities include human aspirations, human choices, technologies, practically useful information, capacity for improving organization, systems, skills, etc. There are innumerable factors which contribute to the creation of new jobs and there is ample scope for action, even within the limits imposed by structural rigidities and political vested interests. Human and social potentials are our most underused and our most valuable resources.
2. Education is the best investment as demonstrated by numerous studies. A rigid structure of education followed by employment and then retirement is outdated. Early employment guaranteeing continuous life-long education is necessary for the 21st century. Raising the current minimum mandatory level of education will slow the movement of youth into the workforce, enhance the learning capacities and employability of new job seekers, and increase job growth in education and education-related fields. It is essential that the lengthening of mandatory education is not done by decreasing the quality of education. On the contrary, it is necessary to ensure a very high quality of education and that in itself leads to increasing employment needs. The increasing demand for knowledge and skills requires a continuation of education and training even after people find employment. Life-long education including everybody is necessary to sustain rapid economic development. This means that the need for education-related jobs increases by more than the factor of ten. The demand for more educators is best met by re-employing an appreciable fraction of retirees, many of them to be re-educated or at least requiring additional education. The best model is provided by Figure II which shows a new model of education/employment.
3. Healthy active life expectancy is increasing throughout the world and the percentage of those over 60 is becoming larger and larger. At the same time today persons of 70-80 are healthier and more active than those 20 years younger were 50 years ago (the phenomenon called svecchiamento). These persons over 60 represent a unique social capital – in their experience and in their capacity to undertake risks — and this capital has to be engaged in jobs-led growth, in economic and social development and in improving the quality of life. It would be totally inappropriate to increase the required age for retirement for all professions (not only miners and ballerinas, but also university professors cannot continue their work indefinitely), but it is equally inappropriate to forcibly retire those who could and want to be employed. It is absolutely necessary to ensure re-education of all those who, could should and want to be employed.
4. Contemporary society demands healthy, highly educated-skilled and active citizens and this represents the basis for ‘flexicurity’ — flexibility in changing jobs and security in guaranteeing employment. A wide range of strategies can be formulated to accelerate job creation. A few illustrative examples are provided below:
i) Fill the skill shortage: Numerous studies confirm the existence of a global shortage of workers with the required level of skills to fill vacant positions. The technical skills shortage applies to jobs in every sector. Firms also find it difficult to recruit people with essential non-technical skills, especially basic interpersonal skills for selling, customer service and working in teams. Equipping job seekers with the skills companies seek will significantly accelerate job creation and business growth. Collaboration between education and business is essential to identify skills needed for career success in a rapidly changing economy and society. The first necessity is to study the skill gaps in both the domestic and international job market and evolve effective programs, such as computerized vocational training, to impart those skills.
ii) Part-time employment: Present regulations and laws prevent or discourage people from seeking part-time employment and employers from hiring them. Experience in countries such as the Netherlands shows that removing the disincentives for part-time work can raise total employment by 2-3% or more, since many young mothers and older workers now working full-time would prefer to work fewer hours for less pay. This will create additional job opportunities for those who are presently unemployed. It can also address the needs of the rapidly increasing group of workers over 60 years of age who are being forced to prematurely retire without adequate economic security, while still capable of productive work. For instance, the employment rate among those of 50-65 ages in Croatia is barely 42%. The increasing percentage of persons older than 70 with inadequate pensions facing poverty and still creative and capable of work can also be solved by part-time employment.
iii) Self-employment: The Internet offers any individual access to a wide range of employment opportunities. A systematic effort should be undertaken to identify these opportunities and educate youth to the potential.
5. Money is the most powerful and least understood of all social organisations, one capable of unlimited innovation that can generate unlimited economic and social development. Banking, mortgage, insurance, venture capital, investment funds, and credit cards are monetary innovations that have supported an enormous expansion of economic activity and job creation. There is ample scope for expanding the use of these instruments and for new monetary innovations that will have a similar impact.

Figure 4: Proposed education/employment model

New tools are needed and older people with their experience and possibility for proposing risky solutions should try to contribute to the process of proposing and in some cases testing new tools.

12  Etzkowitz, H. and Leydesdorf, L., (2000): “The Dynamics of Innovation: From National Systems and ‘Mode 2’ to a Triple Helix of University-Industry-Government”, Research Policy 29, 109-123: Etzkowitz, H. (2001): “The Second Academic Revolution and the Rise of Entrepreneurial Science”, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Summer; Etzkowitz, H. (2004): “Creative Reconstruction: Toward a New Mode of Production in Knowledge-Based Societies”, Paper presented at workshop Innovation and Social Development in Knowledge-Based Economy/Society, Dubrovnik, IUC, 7-9 May; Etzkowitz, H. (2004): “Learning from Transition: The Triple Helix as an Innovation System”, Transition Countries in the Knowledge Society, edited by Svarc, J, Laznjak, J., Sporer, Z., Polsek, D., Institute of Social Sciences “I. Pilar”, Zagreb.

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