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Generations – Learning – Prosperity

2nd Berlin Demography Forum from 9-10 January 2013 in Berlin

The call for strategic and supra-generational action in dealing with demographic change was a central concern of those attending the 2nd Berlin Demography Forum in Berlin from 9-10 January, which this year addressed the topic of “Generations-Learning-Prosperity”. In the opening lecture, the Head of Allianz Insurance, Michael Diekmann, stressed before just over 250 guests the explosive nature of demographic development, which he compared with the consequences of climate change.

It was also true here that the pain would be all the greater the longer we wait. The eyes of the forum this time were particularly on the “Young Expert Panel”, on which young academics – including Jasmin Passet and Ines Wickenheiser from the BiB – addressed clear appeals to decision-makers from the political arena and from industry in two topical fora.

Federal Family Minister Dr. Kristina Schröder focussed her opening speech on the primary significance attaching to the exchange between the generations in coping with demographic change: Societal progress required both the experience gained by the older and the pioneering spirit of the younger. This was ultimately also the topic of the forum: participation on the part of young and old, life-long learning from early childhood to old age, as well as prosperity through innovation on the one hand and the passing on of experience on the other.

Prof. Schneider: Demographic Change as a Global Challenge and an Opportunity at the Same Time

Talk of Prof. Schneider at the Berlin Demography Forum Berlin Demography Forum 2013Professor Schneider during his speech

The fact that demographic change must be seen as both a global challenge and as an opportunity was shown by the Director of the BiB, Professor Norbert F. Schneider. The sociologist stressed that it was however necessary to distinguish between developed and undeveloped countries when assessing the challenges and opportunities posed by developments. In the developing countries, it was crucial above all to master the consequences of urbanisation and of the spread of megacities. It was further necessary here to achieve improvements in education and in the situation of women in order to achieve equal rights between the sexes.
The developed countries, in contrast, are faced by two major challenges: to maintain global competitiveness and prosperity against the background of ageing and shrinking societies, and to adapt the social security systems to demographic change. The question arose for the developed countries with regard to the maintenance of competitiveness as to the degree to which the productivity of work could be increased without upsetting the social equilibrium. Secondly, an increase in productivity frequently goes hand in hand with low birth rates.
All in all, the development gave rise to a large number of economic and social questions, such as the degree to which societies which had a shrinking, ageing and hence more expensive workforce had to anticipate investment and capital emigrating to countries which had a relatively younger population structure and cheaper production conditions. In terms of social security, the question had to be asked as to what was to be understood by solidarity in the 21st Century, and what should be the face of the security systems in future.
At the same time, demographic change was however said to also offer opportunities: Falling birth rates in the developing countries could also entail opportunities for better economic development. Amongst other things, changed behavioural patterns in consumption and services caused by ageing led to new markets in the developed countries, and the increasing life expectancy ensured longer participation of the elderly in the life of society.

Young Expert Panels: Young and Old Count Equally

What needs to be done to cope with demographic change was shown by the young researchers in two “Young Expert Panels” which had different focal topics: In Topic 1, the participants, including Jasmin Passet from the BiB, addressed the “desire for children”. Ms Passet used the example of the time problem to show that young people simply had no time to start a family in the rush-hour of life between 25 and 35. In the discussion, the participants called for a focus not only on higher birth rates, but also on promoting children and juveniles as well as possible targeted investment in development and education since, as the young researcher Katharina Klein from the Eberhard Karl University Tübingen put it: Every child counts!

Ines Wickenheiser at the Berlin Demography Forum Berlin Demography Forum 2013Ines Wickenheiser (2nd from left.) during the discussion

However, overcoming the consequences of demographic change also needs “active senior citizens”, and these formed the focus of the panel’s Topic 2. Ines Wickenheiser from the BiB appealed to eliminate the inflexible, out-of-date age limits which still existed in some professions or indeed in some voluntary services. Everyone ages differently. There were 80-year-olds who were just as fit, active and able as some people at 40. Age had changed decisively: Today’s 80-year-olds could not be compared with those of 20 years ago, she stressed. She observed that this led to the logical consequence that everyone should be able to choose freely – there should be jobs, voluntary services and educational opportunities for all ages. As a representative of the 80+ generation, former Federal Family Minister, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c.mult. Ursula Lehr used the appeal coming from the “Young Experts” against the background of the elderly working for longer to question all age limits, and at the same time called for people to have the courage to form families, even in times when jobs were insecure.

Conclusion: Demographic Change is an Opportunity – with Everyone, for Everyone

What strategies policy-makers are following with regard to population developments was shown by the State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Cornelia Rogall-Grothe, in the context of the Executive Panel on “European Demography Policies”. An interdepartmental approach had been introduced in the shape of the Federal Government's Demographic Strategy of April 2012, describing fields of action in which the Federal Government intended to develop and implement joint solutions, with the Länder and municipalities, associations, social partners and other organisations, requiring a broad dialogue process for which amongst other things the separate Demographic Portal of Germany and its Federal States has been set up by the BiB. The State Secretary recalled that the political stage that has been set only showed long-term effects. She viewed demographic change as a major opportunity, albeit one which demanded courage, imagination and a willingness to face change at all levels.

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