Older people are a rapidly growing part of the EU population, which makes the issue of their inclusion and participation in society one of the main political priorities for the upcoming years. Yet, older people will not be fully integrated unless the still prevailing age stigmatization and discrimination is challenged in all areas of society. One of the most effective ways of fighting age discrimination and ageism is to bring all age and population groups together, enable them to know each other better, learn from their respective experience and cooperate in their everyday lives.
Intergenerational response to current societal issues
Enhanced solidarity between different age groups can indeed help achieve the EU's goal of promoting active and healthy ageing while helping address other societal challenges, such as gender equality, work-life balance, inclusiveness of labour market, early school dropout, care needs of dependent older people, overall social cohesion, etc.
For instance, grand-parents by looking after their grand-children will support their own children and help them remain active in employment, in particular women or the increasing number of single parents. This contribution is particularly valuable in times when quality jobs are scarce and workers face increasing workload and pressure with difficulties to reconcile work with family responsibilities. Therefore, grandparents can provide children with additional care, affection, stability and educational support.
Many older people also bring valuable contribution through volunteering beyond their own families. By helping the others in need, older people not only have a high social impact on their neighborhoods and communities, but also transform them into more cohesive and inclusive places to live. In return, older volunteers feel more useful, fulfilled, which improves their own wellbeing and health.
Older pesons' family and social involvement also contributes to address isolation and loneliness in older age and foster mental health.
In the area of long-term care, where public spending tend to be insufficient to address the growing care needs, dependent older people often rely on informal family carers (and the so-called ‘sandwich generation’). Although often overlooked by work-life balance policies, their support is here critical, and helps reduce the pressure on public health care budget.
A political responsibility
Notwithstanding the positive impact of solidarity within and among generations, we should not overlook the responsibility of public authorities to ensure adequate social services to deal with population ageing. EU and national decision-makers also need to ensure the adequate policy framework to empower all generations to bring their contribution and to be valued for doing so.
At European level, further efforts, including institutional solutions, such as an EU directive on carers, will be crucial to facilitate the reconciliation between work and family life and, eventually, to enhance gender equality in employment. This would help in particular women who are most of the time in charge of care duties within families.