Our 'developed' societies are growing old. Up to now, the consequences of this phenomenon have nearly only been examined from the point of view of the retired people and of the best reforms to be adopted to ensure its perennial character. This vision is extremely restrictive.
The enlargement of the period of life summed up to aging affects the whole society in its different dimensions. Our ways of working, of covering the risks, of imagining the relationships between generations and of distributing the social time in lifeís trajectory have been deeply transformed.
Is the populationís aging a source of wealthiness or is it a plague of the modern times?
Should aging be considered, first of all, a social change?
Will the deformation of the pyramid of age have any influence on consumption, leisure and on the societyís organization?
Will it be easier tomorrow to live in a society that is growing old? What will be the repercussion of the confirmed demographic evolution, the lines of future of which are being drawled?
This evolution hits with the new family shapes that must, since now, be looked under the angle of the evolution of the relation in the bosom of the 'family' cell, and that we can number: health, money, rights and mentalities. It is possible that, under pressure of the ways of living or of the emergency of trends on which the humanís evolution depends, one of these criterions undergoes a transformation and acquires a dominant character, deeply changing the nature of the relationships in the bosom of the family sphere.
Letís take as an example the health area. Since ten years ago, concretely because of the Alzheimer disease, the guardianships have multiplied themselves, and nearly families assume a 60% of these in a stable way. What will happen in the future? What can we also say about the obligation regarding the maintenance between generations? The French Legislation obliga problems that were unknown until now. Can we obligate a great-grandchild to feed his greatgrandmother with whom he has only had a fortuitous relationship? Even if the answer must be affirmative spiritually and humanly, it is also logic to wonder about the fact that the heaping of generations weakens the familyís capacity of solidarity.
Societies put aging to the test Sociologists have studied this change under the point of view of the cycles of life: retirement age and labour age.
Ageing: life cycle
The mentalities in this area have evolved a lot during the last decades. In France aging is no more considered as the beginning of old age. There is, in the spirit of the young retired persons, a second life before getting to the third age.
The French populationís aging comes together with the evolution of the mentalities of retired persons. As they are healthy, the 'elderlies' consider themselves younger, while they think at their age their parents were already old. For most of them, the word 'elderlies' has got a value. For those drawing near the age of retirement, this age is awaited with impatience and easing. Retirement has become the opportunity of reaching a spreading which has taken a long time. This tendency can be appreciated moreover in the young 'elderlies' who have suffered, annoyed or forced at the end of their career, changes in their work and methods, as well as the effects of the delocation, and so, an atmosphere of insecurity and stress.
In this way, we can observe a kind of lack of interest in the life of the enterprise, only in benefit of life. If for a large number of salaried workers their job is a socially respected and appreciated value, yet our work site layout is not the only place where we can achieve personal fulfilment.
The age of employment and the enlargement of working life
This subject is recurrent. Mr Nielsenís, president of the Commission of Experts of Brussels, and Mr. Lemchemís (Sweden delegation) speeches at Salouís Euromeeting, about the solutions recommended by the European Commission or adopted in Sweden to face the problems caused by the financial imbalances of the organisms of old age security, still interest us.
The challenge of the populationís aging is more for the employment of salaried workers who are growing old and of the young generations than for the retired persons.
How will the developed countries face this challenge?
From a country to another, the different professional trajectories in the second part of labour life are surprising.
What a contrast between the Japanese, Swedish and French quinquagerians! For the two first ones, insertion into the labour market until a late age, for the third ones, fragility and early relegation out of the market.
Employment of persons over 50 years old
Do efficient methods really exist to keep the salaried persons working in acceptable conditions? Given the risk of impoverishment, isnít the band of salaried persons of more age the most threatened one?
Employment and retirement make an inseparable couple. We cannot regulate retirement without taking into account the problem of employment in its totality, especially in the second half of the course of life. The international comparisons often explain many things. In a general way we can observe that, in the labour market, the phenomenon of relegation of salaried persons reaching old age embraces very different situations in countries like Japan or Sweden, with a future for the quiquagenarians, as well as countries like France, Germany and Belgium where a depreciation of this kind of salaried persons prevails.
This proves the existence of a large variety of 'cultures of age'. While in Sweden and Japan there is a 'culture of right to work' for the elderlies, in France, as well as in a lot of other European countries, what is promoted is a 'culture of precocious abandonment of the labour market.
Is it necessary to abandon the logic of a segmentation of ages to take steps to obtain a diversity that embraces the 'cycles of life'? Is it really necessary?
Some give more importance to the decreasing profit of the pension systems, others to the need of transmitting, from a generation to another, the enterprisesí knowledge and learning.
Some sociologists have no doubts about advancing the idea of the beneficial effects of a 'second profession' for the salaried people reaching old age. But, besides the perspective of a change of profession means a previous preparation, we must reflect on the risks these salaried persons may run if being employed in posts less qualified and with a remuneration which may
surely be reduced. Regarding this situation, the salaried people could feel that their efforts are not being taken into account.
In France, where the unemployment rate is still high, the enlargement of the 'life cycle' can only be conceived with the point of view of a market full of employment for young people.
It is necessary for the so-called 'developed countries' to know how to make the populationís aging become an opportunity and not a catastrophe. To do so they should make a good macro-sociological analysis of the enterprisesí behaviour in the matter of age management.
They must clearly explain the status of the salaried people in advanced ages, their social protection; in a word, they must build a real 'culture of the age'.
If we limit our attention to the sociological aspect of the employment and retirement ages when being asked about the fundamental problem of the populationís aging, I am of the opinion that we will show a limited mentality and, in a way, a caricature of this mentality.
Our reflection must embrace, in what we call social protection, other parameters, such as health, handicap and reliance.
A recent European study shows that the main worry of the retired persons is autonomy, which is considered an absolute need. Reliance is the retired personsí great fear.
The European Groupís role
We must go on working and reflecting on the whole subjects of interest for the retired persons: retirement, health protection, reliance, handicapÖ because the medium and long term precautions prove that other reforms will be needed in a ten or fifteen years period.
We need to dialogue, and the Group constitutes the Forum, the favoured place for meeting and exchange. A lot of our detractors think that what we do is talk a lot but we donít take any actions. But what each of us is doing in our respective countries is not only to reflect, and good proof of it are the speeches of our Italian friends in the frame of the 'golden clause' and the ones of our representatives in the AGE platform, without forgetting currently in France our support to the intervention of the French Insurance for the defense of our Health Protection system.
It is in the Groupís bosom, place of coexistence and listening, through the diffusion of this information, as our President Josť Lůpez explained very well in his speech in Salou, where synergies- interesting for all of us- will be able to develop and get alive, moreover if they donít limit themselves to the retirement problem.
In fact, retirement is only one episode more of the challenge awaiting the following generations with the creation of a European social model.
To end, I would like to cite the words of our friend DIEGO CARRASCO EGUINO, professor at the University of Alicante:
'It is about attaining that the social chapter becomes a reality in the European Unionís bosom. The project of Europeís Fathers-Founders- a society able to give every one a worthy level of life, education, retirement, health, social services and reinsertion- needs to become a reality'.
Jean Claude Chretien