Essay on Law and Social Theory Population aging: changes in cultural patterns and pension legislation

Today the established large public distributive pension systems have been questioned almost on all the continents. The reasons for this could be found in the common effect of demographic, economic, social, moral and psychological factors. The most important of these are related to the dynamic process of population aging as a result of increasing life expectancy and declining fertility that affect all societies.

Population ageing, which resulted in almost doubling of the proportion of elderly people in the second half of the 20th century and in increase of their number by almost 3 times, produces a corresponding increase in demographic pressure in relation to persons of working age. Unevenness of these processes because of the deformation of the age structure due to medical advances, growth of urbanization and educational level, loss of priority by the family institution, as well as the policy of reducing the birth rate has led most countries to the negative population growth. Population ageing has resulted in changes in psychological, cultural, social, economic and legal terms. Thus, in general, in countries with a negative population growth the existing pension legislation is ineffective. Today many pension systems are already characterized by current account deficits, and, according to some estimates, the accumulated debt amounts to pension systems in some countries reaches 100 to 250% of GDP (Vanhuysse and Goerres, 2011); some pension systems become insolvent and need revision and reforming under current conditions of the society age structure.

Further in this paper, on the example of social changes accompanying the aging of population, we will consider the social and legal dimensions of problem arising and discuss the implications for social policies and further development of the society as a whole.


Increasing life expectancy tendency and its social impact


The trend for growing life expectancy at birth appeared and developed since around the end of the 19th century, and has become sustainable today. This trend manifested itself especially strong in the developed countries of Europe, USA, Japan and China. For example, according to the UN, on average in Europe for the period from 1950 to 2005, life expectancy increased by more than eight years: from 65.6 to 73.7 years (World Population Prospects, 2009).

In this regard, as well as due to the reduction of fertility in developed countries, in recent decades many states have faced the situation of ageing of the population: the increase of the proportion of elderly people (65 and above) and the associated problems which Peter Peterson described as a phenomenon of the “gray dawn”¯ (Peterson, 1999). The UN estimates that by 2025, approximately one in six people on earth will be over 60, which will be more than one billion elderly people. The part of population of Europe aged over 60 in 2025 will make 28% (World Population Prospects, 2009). The average age (in years) in 2050 in Japan will be equal to 52.3, in Italy 52.5, in Switzerland 46.5. The “50 Club”¯ in 2050 will include Austria (50.0) and Hong Kong (51.1). Spain will almost reach this level with 49.9 years (World Population Prospects, 2009).

It is surely important to bear in mind here that in reality there is something else happening, except an increase in the proportion of older people in the age structure of the society; not only a gradual increase in the life expectancy at birth, a process yet almost unnoticeable and virtually unexplored by scientists: rejuvenation of the population. The population of developed countries due to the development of medicine keeps health and young outlook, which leaves its mark on many processes of psychological, cultural, and social nature. One should not forget that the real purpose of gerontologists and everyone who deals with the problem of overcoming aging is not just the increase in life expectancy, but the extension of healthy life and youth (Peterson, 1999; Olshansky et al., 2006).

A great contribution to the rejuvenation of the population is made by the distribution of many cosmetic methods maintaining the nice outlook: plastic surgery, hardware and pharmaceutical cosmetology, cryotherapy, etc. A whole antiageing direction has emerged in medicine. Also, many diseases and conditions commonly associated with ageing have themselves become “older”¯. Thus, on average, menopause in women now occurs later: while at the beginning of this century menopause and the accompanying in some cases climax syndrome occurred in women aged 40, now it is more likely for the age of 50-52 (Huber, 2005; Olshansky et al., 2006).

In addition to the phenomenon of rejuvenation of the population, modern medicine has come close to a point beyond which we can expect a significant increase in life expectancy due to the revolutionary state of gerontology, and according to Huber (2005) if the current pace of progress will continue in the study of the mechanisms of ageing, it is possible to expect receiving critically important results in this area in the next 10-20 years.

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