credit: Nikoline Arns on Unsplash

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

Enhancing solidarity between different age groups can 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.

Promoting age diversity at the workplace is a matter of coherence in a European Union that asks its citizens to work longer.

In a context of ageing demography, developing life-cycle approaches at the workplace, which ensure healthy working environments at all stages of life and foster interaction, cooperation and solidarity between the different age groups, can help to keep older people in employment for longer and to transfer knowledge and experience. Skills transfers can happen both ways, from younger to older and from older to younger people, and inside or outside the labour market. Measures aimed at promoting work-life balance are here key and often lead to “win-win” situations. They can support longer working careers, and so contribute to the sustainability of pension systems, while helping senior workers to take care of older dependent relatives – thus reducing public health costs – or of grandchildren – thus supporting young parents’ professional careers.

By looking after their grand-children, grand-parents will indeed 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.

Informal care and volunteering 

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.

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 well-being and health.
In addition to this, older persons’ family and social involvement contributes to address isolation and loneliness in older age and foster mental health.

A political responsibility

Notwithstanding the positive impact of solidarity within and among generations, we should not overlook the responsibility of public authorities in addressing population ageing. EU and national decision-makers need to provide the adequate policy framework to empower all generations to play an active part in society, e.g. in ensuring adequate social and care services, supporting work-life balance and promoting age diversity in employment and all areas of life.

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