Professor Teppo Kröger points out that the ageing population’s access to sufficient high-quality care services that everyone can afford already has an impact on the middle-aged and young.
I recently participated in the scientific panel on population policy appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office. It was appointed for eight months to support research professor Anna Rotkirch in drawing up a demographic report. The panel worked with a theme that spans several decades. In population policy, a quarter is said to comprise a quarter of a century, not a quarter of a year, which can be seen in the fact that the older population of the 2090s have already been born, for example.
As I am no specialist in demography, it made me think whether I am the right person to be appointed to the panel. Now in retrospect, I feel that I was in the right place. As its name indicates, population policy applies not only to families with children but to the entire population.
In modern population policy, preparing for eventual changes in the demographic structure is more important than attempts to affect the birth rate and therefore the structure of the population. The key issue is to ensure the wellbeing and high education level of the entire population, even during changes. This means that today’s population policy becomes welfare policy – and not only family policy but also educational policy, housing policy and even care policy.
In future, it will even increasingly be about care policy, as the greatest ongoing demographic transformation concerns the ageing of the population, not the decreasing birth rate. In Finland, we should not focus on whether the ageing population is a good or a bad thing. It is simply a fact, whether we like it or not.
The only question is whether Finland ages with or without style.
During the same week as the publication of the demographic report in March 2021, the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) notified Finland that it had not ensured the sufficient availability of residential care for older persons. The CESCR was also otherwise concerned about the quality of care and the fulfilment of older people’s right to self-determination. Our studies have also shown that ‘care poverty’, that is, lack of adequate care, is common in Finland, even though this is in violation of the spirit and the letter of the Constitution of Finland and the Act on Supporting the Functional Capacity of the Older Population and on Social and Health Services for Older Persons.
It should be noted that, like population policy, services provided for older people apply to the entire population: everyone who is currently middle-aged, young or a child will be an elderly person in the future, provided that they do not die prematurely. Older persons are not “them”, but “us” – you and me in just a few years.
Whether the ageing population has access to sufficient high-quality care services that everyone can afford already has an impact on the middle-aged and young. The opportunities of the middle-aged, and especially women, to engage full-time in working life depend significantly on whether their parents have access to sufficient services.
Currently, young people are monitoring the situation involving their grandparents and considering whether they in turn must assume greater care responsibility for their parents. The situation with grandparents therefore affects young adults’ plans for the future, including whether to have children. If having children and taking care of them conflicts not only with work, but also with the care provided for parents and grandparents, it is likely that negative effects will extend to all these areas of life.
Population policy can only achieve its goals if we remember that different age groups together make up the population.
The situation involving the older population affects the younger population, and the other way round: the wellbeing of children and young people affects the wellbeing of older people; after all, nothing is more important to grandparents than their grandchildren. If one age group suffers, everyone does. The wellbeing of the population is only secured when every age group feels well.
The writer is Professor of Social and Public Policy and Head of the Centre of Excellence in Research on Ageing and Care
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