The Problem of Europe's Ageing Population
Lovell, Dale, Contemporary Review
There's no denying it--the world is getting older. 36 per cent of the EU's 380 million people are currently over the age of fifty and this figure is set to rise to 50 per cent in the next twenty-five years. The current median age in the EU is 37.7, but by 2028 the average age of an EU citizen will be 52.3. These changes in demographics will have a dramatic effect on the society in which we live and pose a major headache for future governments.
Improving health and increased life expectancy mean that today's older population is able to lead a fuller life than any generation before them. While the over fifties are now more active than in the past, there still remains a perception, created largely by the media and advertisers, that old people are 'over the hill' and of no real worth to society.
If social phenomena such as retirement gap years, silver-surfers and grey-entrepreneurs are anything to go by, the role of the senior within society is already beginning to change, and it is time the media as a whole caught up. As Ben Page, Director of Mori's Social Research Institute said in a recent Xtribes report on 'Silvers', 'People in their seventies are like how people in their fifties used to be'.
You only have to look around you to see that what Page says is true. Sean Connery is still one of the most sought after men in Hollywood, despite being well into his seventies. Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones are still touring at sixty and Sir Paul McCartney became a father again at the age of sixty-two. Helen Mirren looks great at fifty-seven while Dame Judy Dench cannot find enough days in the year to fill the amount of work she is being offered.
But celebrity aside, conventional wisdom suggests that our ageing population is a real problem for the future. Governments foresee burgeoning healthcare costs in caring for an increased elderly population. Indeed some estimates believe that by 2050, GDP spent on the elderly population is set to grow by 40 per cent on current spending levels. With people living longer and the increased strain this will have on resources, many are beginning to ask how the elderly can become more productive members of society. In recognition of this, each year the UN celebrates the International Day for Older Persons with the sole aim of promoting their role as productive members of society.
But what is the best way to promote the role of older people within today's ever changing society? A simple way to make use of an older, healthier population would be to raise the age of retirement in line with life expectancy, but no one, least of all those nearing retirement, view the prospect of having to continue working on into their seventies as a pleasurable prospect. Without a doubt any government that planned to raise the retirement age would be met with severe opposition. All we have to do is look at the protests which occurred in France last June to see how emotive an issue retirement is with older workers. One thing about the future is certain as the population gets older: the power of the elderly vote will play a larger role in Britain's politics pushing hitherto disregarded grey issues to the fore. …