How do older generations have more adaptability

Aging society

Bettina Munimus

To person

Dr. rer. pol., born 1980; Lecturer at the University of Kassel; Project manager at the European Academy for Women in Politics and Business, Schumannstrasse 5, 10117 Berlin. [email protected]

Social aging is changing the balance of power between old and young. More and more retired older people are facing a shrinking group of younger workers. This social development prompted retired Federal President Roman Herzog to warn of a possible "pensioner democracy" [1]. In the idea of ​​such a "pensioner democracy", the elderly would have the say, who can be subsumed as a large gray block under a welfare state interests or a value base. Against the background of the restructuring of the welfare state, the consequences of the financial and economic crises and, last but not least, the ecological question, the younger generation would always be left behind in debates on distribution policy. This scenario assumes that the undoubtedly large number of older people share common interests and bring them into the democratic decision-making process in an organized collective. But what interests do an age cohort have in common and how are these represented and implemented in this country? Does a power of the elders follow the great number?

The senior citizens living today are a historically unique generation of old people. The (West German) elderly population, well protected by the welfare state, [2] whose life cycle is largely characterized by economic prosperity and social advancement, is endowed with "abundant" resources in old age. The "woopies" (well-off older people) consume happily and have long since replaced the image of the frugal consumer. [3] Retirees today have a high level of education and a wide range of experience. The majority of them are healthy and mobile well into old age and are able to organize their time independently in retirement, largely free of professional and family responsibilities. The latter in particular is an elementary prerequisite for social engagement. This is also reflected in the high volunteering rates of those over 65 years of age. [4] The aging West German participation cohorts of the 1960s and 1970s are considered more than any other generation to be enthusiastic about organization and versed in power politics. Especially those born between 1940 and 1950 joined the traditional large organizations during the "intellectual turning point" [5], "marched through the institutions" or joined the social movements in the 1980s. Today, 40 years later, they make up the bulk of the active party base in the two people's parties, the CDU and SPD, and shape the meanwhile graying image of the two. [6] Locally anchored, socially networked and with free time, they act as important civil society multipliers. Today's retirees prove that the transition to retirement does not mean a retreat into private life per se and that the years gained are by no means perceived as passive "remaining time".

The agile "young old" are revolutionizing the image of old age. Not only do they feel an average of ten years younger, as the comprehensive Generali Aging Study 2013 recently demonstrated, [7] moreover, most of them do not want to belong to the "old iron" under the label "senior". The "68ers", who have now reached their sixth or seventh decade, have internalized the juvenile zeitgeist of their youth. Since then, the maxim has been Forever Young raised to a cultural model across all age groups. While age stereotypes that stood for poverty, loneliness and frailty once prevailed, the new competence model underlines the potential and opportunities of old age. It may sound paradoxical: aging societies will be more experienced, more satisfied, more active and at the same time mentally younger. These framework conditions raise the question of whether this creates new options for action and power for a newly inflamed emancipation project in retirement.

Are all old people the same?

The 20 million or so retired people have one thing in common: a dignified, self-determined and materially secure life in old age. Nevertheless, the group of the elderly is highly heterogeneous and differs according to gender, wealth, milieu, health and ultimately also according to biographical characteristics. As a "large group that has been homogenized in terms of social law" [8], pension recipients are extensively dependent on a welfare state benefit, even if the individual life situations and individual needs may be different. Assuming that retired people share common interests, the question arises under which premises a "latent" interest develops into a "manifest" interest and when does the "organized" interest lead to collective action. Basically, the lower the awareness of the interest, the weaker the motivation to realize it. And the lower the ideal and material resources, the weaker the interest. [9] In the Marxian sense, the transition from a "generation in itself to a generation for itself" should take place on the level of an "emphatic generation consciousness". [10] The interest in a "good life in old age" is shared equally by all generations, albeit from different perspectives: While for the older generation in retirement it represents a present-day interest with direct relevance to life and acute concern, the working generation sees it as an indirect interest in the future, which appears abstract due to its temporal distance. [11] In this sense, it is only understandable that material security, the security of the property earned and the preservation of the immediate living environment are important constants of well-being in retirement. If these present interests are threatened by a perceived disregard for life's work, for example due to an unfavorable pension development, resistance arises.

Do older people have original self-interests because of their social status and can diverging interests lead to an outbreak of generation conflicts? Today's relationships between the generation of children, parents and grandparents are better than ever. [12] Older people help to look after their grandchildren and regularly give the younger generation a smaller or larger amount of money. The positive intergenerational relationships lead political actors to the conclusion that these can also be transferred to the social sphere. More recent studies, however, show that the views of older and younger people differ when it comes to socio-political distribution issues. The social scientist Harald Wilkoszewski provided evidence of an existing age effect for the first time. [13] This states that with increasing age, the likelihood of considering social policy measures that do not affect one's own age group and original self-interests decreases as good. The older the person is, and the more childless they are, the less willing they are to politically support the expansion of childcare, for example. Based on this finding, one conceivable consequence for political action would be: The older society is, the more difficult it is for politicians to enforce political decisions, for example in the areas of education and family. [14]

Political disputes in democracies are ideally decided through elections. There is a fixed equation: mass is power. Every third person entitled to vote is already 60 years of age or older. In contrast, voters up to 30 years of age represented only around 16.4 percent of the electorate in the 2009 Bundestag election. [15] The group of voters "60 plus" already has a structural majority in elections. If a party wins 50 percent in this group, the election victory is considered certain. In view of this development, the question is justified whether older people enforce their original self-interests through this electoral hegemony. In addition to their growing proportion, older citizens are more than average in voting. In previous federal elections, their turnout was regularly over 80 percent (Figure (see PDF version)). This higher participation can be explained by cohort differences. Those West German birth cohorts who experienced the Second World War and the German reconstruction in their formative youth and early adulthood show a great sense of citizenship and a fundamental trust in the functionality of representative democracy. They see citizenship in the democratic ballot. [16] Voting as a habitual act has to be learned; this at least makes the younger cohorts' abstinence from voting seem understandable.