Population Europe Conference

The Times of Our Lives

Population Europe Conference about Active Ageing and the Redistribution of Work in Europe

November 27, 2012

Raising the effective retirement age alone will not be sufficient to meet the demographic challenge and maintain economic prosperity in Europe’s ageing societies. Given that current and future generations can expect increasingly long lives, it will be essential to rethink the organisation of working life as such. One idea is to redistribute work across the life-course so that people stay longer in the labour force, but also have more time to care for family and to invest in life-long learning. Leading scientists, policy makers and representatives from economy and civil society discussed the current limitations and challenges of such a concept at the Population Europe conference “The Times of Our Lives” in Brussels on 20 November 2012.
Prof. Axel Börsch-Supan (left) and Prof. Dr. James W. Vaupel (right). Zoom Image
Prof. Axel Börsch-Supan (left) and Prof. Dr. James W. Vaupel (right).

“When a child born today knows it will most probably celebrate its 100th birthday, would it want to live its life the way we used to?”, James W. Vaupel, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, defined the debate’s demographic set-up. Together with colleagues, he recently developed the work redistribution concept: A trade-off between an extended work life beyond the current age of retirement and reduced working hours in earlier periods of life.

Axel Börsch-Supan, Director of the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging, is sceptical that such a concept alone is realisable in times of economic crisis. From his point of view, labour market problems need to be resolved at first hand: “It is important to create more labour. Entire countries are going down because of youth unemployment. And we need more flexibility regarding working hours. There are people who work full time, some work part time, a lot of people do not work at all. And there is nothing in between.”

At the end of the European Year for Active Ageing the actual labour market participation of those between age 55 and 64 has still not reached the 50% goal in any country. Or, as Graziella Caselli, Honorary Professor of Demography at Sapienza University of Rome and co-organiser of the Population Europe Event, stated: “The reality of the labour market is exclusion of employment for older people, particularly for women.”

Francesco C. Billari, Head of the Department of Sociology at Oxford University, criticised the lack of information for young people: “Most of them have no idea that they will be so old and therefore they do not plan properly”. He emphasised that a redistribution of working life cannot be done without a gender and family perspective. “There must be a redistribution of paid and unpaid work. Domestic labour is still unequally divided between the genders. We need a feminisation of male working patterns.”

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