Europe is getting older. Today, almost 20% of people in the EU are aged 65 or older. This number is steadily creeping up, however, and by the year 2080 it’s predicted to increase to almost 30%. What will European society look like if nearly one-in-three people are older than 65 (and 12% over 80)?
Europe’s ageing population is a long-term trend that began several decades ago, as life expectency has increased and birth rates have started to decline. It could have serious consequences for the sustainability of the economy (not to mention pension systems and public healthcare). Younger Europeans will have to support an ever-increasing cohort of older Europeans, meaning their productivity will have to radically increase. Could technology hold the key?
Our sister think tank Friends of Europe has launched a report including 7 key recommendations on how to meet the challenges that come with ageing populations, unhealthy lifestyles, shortages of healthcare workers and increased demand for care. You can read the full report here.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from PG, who is convince that the problem of an ageing population is “false”, as most jobs in the EU will be automated in the future. Is he correct?
We spoke to David Sinclair, Director of the International Longevity Centre – UK, a think-tank focused highlighting the challenges of an ageing society and demographic change. What would he say to PG?
Our ageing society means we’re likely to have fewer people of working age relative to the number of older people. This presents big problems and worries for European policymakers as to how we fill some of the skills gaps. Some people think that actually we don’t need to worry because technology will solve the problem, that actually automation will deliver new sorts of solutions to the problems of skills shortages. I think automation will change the sort of jobs we’re doing, and may actually result in a need for more skilled than unskilled workers, rather than actually necessarily solving the need for work. People have been promising for decades that automation would mean none of us have to work as much as we have in the past. The reality is, though, that automation will probably just deliver new and different sorts of jobs that we’ll have to do. We are going to need a workforce for these jobs.
We also had a comment from Bastian, who thinks that Japan is the perfect model for Europe. He argues they have an ageing population but a very comfortable standard of living, and part of this is down to the fact that they have been “developing sophisticated technology”. Should Europe also start experimenting with using robots to care for old people (or is that just another way of “dying even more miserably”)?
People have been looking to Japan as a model for Europe and the rest of the world for years because Japan has been ageing quicker than the rest of us. But let’s not forget that in Japan they’ve faced decades of pretty terrible economic growth, and I don’t think that’s the sort of model that Europe wants to follow.
I think there are very real fears for Europe that ageing will result in lower growth, lower returns on investment, and lower inflation over the next twenty to thirty years. Clearly, what we don’t want to do is follow Japan’s example. Now, there are interesting lessons to lean from Japan in terms of their use of technology, but I think Europe will have to come up with its own solutions to some of the problems that we’ve been identifying.
Can technology meet the challenge of Europe’s ageing population? Could automation and digitisation help people work longer (and more productively) with a higher quality of life? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: BigStockPhoto – denisfilm
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