Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Ageing Population and Family Support in Spain

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Ageing Population and Family Support in Spain

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The significance increase of population longevity has become an international phenomenon (Kinsella and Phillips, 2005). The life expectancy at birth has increased in 20 years in the period 1950-2010, from 47.7 to 67.9 years worldwide. Probably, in the next decades the life expectancy will increase. Population projections indicate that in 2060 the life expectancy in the world will reach 77.5 years (75.2 years by males and 79.9 years by women) (United Nations, 2010).

While the life expectancy will increase in the next decades, volume and absolute number of older people will increase too. Population projections indicate that in 2060 the 26.2% of the population in developed countries will be over 65 years and the 17.1% in developing countries (United Nations, 2010).

The substantial increase in the number of people over 65 years will occur in developed societies in the coming decades carries significant social and economic consequences. Countries with an aged population may have difficulty providing essential goods and services to its population-healthcare and welfare, transportation and tourism, public pensions and urban planning, among others-so that the country's overall development could be affected by the aging process (European Commission, 2006). In the same way, aging involves profound social changes affecting the structure and composition of families. The reduction in the average size of families, the increase in single person households and weakening family and personal networks, affect the welfare and quality of life of the population. All these changes make it necessary to design effective policies that mitigate the adverse effects that the aging process brings, and avoid higher socioeconomic inequality.

Many countries in Europe and North America have experienced similar socio-demographic trends. However, the impact of these changes on the family support of older people differs considerably across countries. In Spain and in the Miediterranean countries, the family rather than the welfare state plays the major role in reducing uncertainty during difficult periods in the life course: the phase of education, entry into the labor market, family formation and family dissolution, old age, illness or disability. In fact, far from satisfied the claim that the family is in crisis, the current context of global economic crisis has shown that family solidarity remains one of the pillars of the welfare in the Southern European societies. Nevertheless, there is not doubt that the Spanish society is undergoing rapid demographic changes that will have consequences in the patterns of solidarity and support.

Family relationships, community participation and continued as an active member of the family life, play a key role in the quality of life and the welfare of the elderly. For this reason, the study of the family has become a cross-cutting issue in the international research agenda.

Numerous investigations have studied different aspects of family solidarity in individual countries or regions of countries (Grundy and Tomassini, 2003; Tomassini et al., 2005). These studies has shown a fairly consistent picture of the high involvement of families in care-giving to older people, and that the input of care for frail older people from outside the family is still modest in some countries. Nonetheless, we still know too little about the guiding principles and values that shape families' responses-or non-responses-to older people's care needs. The uniqueness of the Spanish case justifies the need for further study.

The purpose of this article is to contribute to the debate on the present and future role of the family in Spain. The analysis of family characteristics and demographic context will assess the needs and to plan the social policies and the provision of care of people over 65 years. In addition, the results allow developing a more complete diagnosis of the challenges that the transformation of families represents for the welfare state and its future sustainability. …

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