Population ageism and its social effects

AMASE – multidimensional approach to social exclusion in later life – health consequences for ageing populations. Project implemented by the Research Institute of the University of Bucharest (ICUB), Norwegian Social Research (NOVA) – a research centre of Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) and the National Institute for Labour and Social Protection Research (INCSMPS).

The impact of an ageing population will be evident not only on the pension system but also on the health and care system, the labour market and public finances. The solutions identified so far at European level relate to active ageing policies that seek to help people remain active and independent as they age and contribute, where possible, to the economy and society. This means extending working lives alongside adequate social protection and, where necessary, additional pensions. Applying these principles in Romania is problematic because there are a number of challenges that should be overcome.

There is a problem of intergenerational solidarity. The current cohorts of older people have, for the most part, been advantaged compared to the current working generations: they have had relatively standardised biographies, marked by relatively easy access to education, health, housing, the labour market. They now benefit from pensions which, while not always covering their needs, keep them above the poverty line and provide important security in old age.

Younger generations have faced greater challenges in building a good life, and their biographies have been marked by many changes and challenges in relation to the educational system, health care, trying to solve their housing problem, and during their working lives. For example, a working life trajectory marked by frequent job changes, with periods of unemployment, will translate in old age into diminished pension entitlements and a lower quality of life in old age. Most likely, these generations will have to work into old age where possible.

The health status of the population is problematic and is an obstacle to a possible increase in the retirement age. In a pandemic year, Romania has seen life expectancy fall by one year, meaning a decade of progress in this area has been lost. There is also the high prevalence of chronic diseases in the population to be added here.

Current policies link the labour market and the pension system, trying to strike a balance between the population contributing to the pension budget and the beneficiaries. Partial takeover of pension payments from the state budget is not sustainable and can only work as a stop-gap solution. Increasing the labour force through migration is another type of attempt to resolve the imbalance mentioned above. Raising the retirement age may have limited success in Romania, depending also on the supply of jobs, which should be adapted to the needs of such an ageing workforce.

An ageing population means that society must adapt to the needs of the elderly. This requires adequate and sustainable services through investment in preventive care, rehabilitation, age-friendly spaces for the elderly, and varied ways of providing care appropriate to the needs and abilities of the elderly. This can lead to the creation of new jobs in the care sector (assistive technology) and even in goods and products specifically designed for the elderly.

Companies will need to adapt workplaces to the demands and needs of an ageing workforce, from transforming workplaces to accommodating flexible working hours to creating positions that take into account the experience and skills of older workers, efforts to overcome ageism and discrimination in the workplace.

The model of care in our country is largely family-based, while services for both children and the elderly are underdeveloped. People feel a great responsibility to care for elderly parents and there is a negative perception of long-term care services. They are seen as a failure of the family to fulfil their caring duties. This places an extremely heavy burden on the working generations, and it translates into time, financiary resources, staff effort that sometimes confiscates the lives of carers, especially the 35-45 age category.

Normally, the development of quality health and social care services for the elderly would mean increasing confidence in this solution and easing the burden of care that often burdens families to the limit of what is bearable. However, this development is lagging behind, and Romania has so far failed to create appropriate institutional solutions. While in Western countries efforts are being made to create conditions for ageing at home (ageing in place) with age-friendly spaces and services at home in parallel with a deinstitutionalisation of care, our country does not yet have a definite line of development and is reactive to developments, without a clear vision in the field. Unfortunately, older people have a limited time horizon and the support they need must be provided now, in parallel with long-term thinking for future generations of older people.

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