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The Economic ‘Burden’ of Ageing and the Prospect of Intergenerational Conflict

  • Alan Walker (a1)

This article examines the mounting pessimism of policy-makers concerning the implications of societal ageing. It is argued that underlying this pessimism are primarily macroeconomic worries about the economic ‘burden’ that older people are said to represent to the economy and, specifically, the working population. It is suggested that, in turn, these particular concerns are ideologically inspired; hence it is the public expenditure costs of pensions and health care rather than, for example, the economic costs of ageing for older people and their families, that are the chief causes of anxiety. Thus political ideology has distorted and amplified the macroeconomic consequences of population ageing in order to legitimate anti-welfare state policies.

While Britain and the US represent leading examples of this trend, there is a danger that, inspired to some extent by the leading international economic agencies, other countries will follow their lead. An unintended result of doing so may be the growth of inter-generational conflict. This concept has achieved quite wide currency in the US literature and has been influential in some policy circles. It is subjected to close scrutiny and found deficient as a basis for policy-making. In conclusion some lessons are drawn about the failure of orthodox social gerontology to counteract the pessimistic accounts emanating from economic and demographic analyses and the need for a more critical stance by the discipline.

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1 Council of Europe, The Projection of the Very Old. Council of Europe, Strasburg, 1984; Heller, P., Hemming, R. and Kolmert, P., Ageing and social expenditure in the major industrialised countries 1980–2025, Occasional Paper 47. IMF, Washington DC, 1986; OECD, Health and Pension Policies Under Economic and Demographic Constraints. OECD, Paris, 1988a; idem, Reforming Public Pensions. OECD, Paris, 1988b; idem, Ageing Populations – The Social Policy Implications. OECD, Paris, 1988c; ISSA, Long-term Care for the elderly provided within the framework of health care systems. Report presented at XXII General Assembly, Montreal, 2–12 September, 1986; ILO, Into the Twenty-first Century: the Development of Social Security. ILO, Geneva, 1984.

2 Walker, A., Care of elderly people. In Berthoud, R. (ed.), Challenges to Social Policy pp. 185209. Gower, London, 1984.

3 See, for example, Hoskins, I., Intergenerational equity: an overview of a public policy debate in the United States. Ageing International, Spring, 1987, pp. 58; Moody, H. R., Generational equity and social insurance. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 13, 1 (1988), 3156; Harbor, J. C., Economic policy, international equity and the social security trust fund buildup. Social Security Bulletin, 50, 10 (1987). 1318; Minkler, M., ‘Generational equity’ and the new victim blaming: an emerging public policy issue. International Journal of Health Services, 16, 4 (1986), 539–51; Binney, E. A. and Estes, C. L., The retreat of the State and its transfer of responsibility: the intergenerational war. International Journal of Health Services, 18, 1 (1988), 8396.

4 OECD (1988b), op. cit. p. 34.

5 Ibid. p. 40.

6 Ibid. p. 35.

7 Ibid. p. 102.

8 Ibid. p. 36.

9 Johnson, P., The structured dependency of the elderly: a critical note. In Jefferys, M. (ed.), Growing Old in the Twentieth Century, p. 66. Routledge, London, 1989.

10 Walker, A., Dependency and old age. Social Policy and Administration, 16, 2 (1982), 115–35.

11 OECD (1988b), op. cit. p. 40.

12 United Nations, The Ageing of Populations and Its Economic and Social Implications. UN, New York, 1956.

13 Thomas, K., Age and authority in early modern England. Proceedings of the British Academy, LXII (1976), 205–48.

14 DHSS, Reform of Social Security, Vol. 1, Cmnd 9517. HMSO, London 1985.

15 Titmuss, R. M., Essays on ‘the Welfare State’, second edition. Allen & Unwin, London, 1963.

16 OECD (1988c), op. cit. p. 35.

17 Ibid. p. 45.

18 Ibid. p. 39.

19 Op. cit. p. 90.

20 Walker, A., Social Planning, pp. 109–14. Blackwell, Oxford, 1984.

21 Walker, A., Pensions and the production of poverty in old age. In Phillipson, C. and Walker, A. (eds), Ageing and Social Policy, pp. 184216. Gower, London, 1986.

22 Manton, K., The linkage of morbidity and mortality implications of increasing life expectancy at later ages for health service demand. In Economic Council of Canada (ed.), Ageing With Limited Health Resources, pp. 3959Economic Council of Canada, Ottawa, 1987; Walker, A., Meeting the needs of Canada's elderly with limited health resources: some observations based on British experience. In idem, pp., 27–39.

23 OECD (1988b), op. cit. p. 35.

24 OECD (1988c), op. cit. p. 40.

25 OECD, (1988b), op. cit. p. 66.

26 Walker, A. (1984), op. cit. p. 28.

27 Clark, R. and Spengler, J., The Economies of Individual and Population Ageing, p. 67, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980.

28 Phillipson, C., Capitalism and the Construction of Old Age. Macmillan, London, 1982.

29 Clark, and Spengler, , op. cit. p. 86.

30 Walker, A., Early retirement: release of refuge from the labour market? The Quarterly Journal of Social Affairs, 1, 3 (1985), 211–29; idem, The benefits of old age? In McEwan, E. (ed.), Age: The Unrecognised Discrimination, pp. 5870. Age Concern, Mitcham, 1990, pp. 5870.

31 Walker, A., Thatcherism and the new politics of old age. In Myles, J. and Quadagno, J. (eds), States, Labour Markets and the Future of Old Age Policy. Temple University Press, New York, 1990.

32 OECD (1988c), op. cil. p. 39.

33 OECD (1988b), op. cit. p. 30; Myles, J., Conflict, crisis, and the future of old age security. Millbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 61, 3 (1983), 462–72.

34 OECD (1988c), op. cit. p. 71.

35 Ibid. p. 27.

36 Jones, J., Ageing and generational equity: an American perspective. Paper given to an international seminar on the ageing of the population, Futuribles International, Paris, 1988, p. 13.

37 DHSS, op. cit. p. 18.

38 Minkler, , op. cit. p. 540; Walker, (1986) op cit. p. 188.

39 The Sheffield Group, The Social Economy and the Democratic State, p. 15. Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1989.

40 See in particular Binney, and Estes, , op. cit. and Minkler, , op. cit.

41 Ibid. pp. 541–8.

42 Daniels, N., Am I My Parents' Keeper? Oxford University Press, New York, 1988.

43 Tindale, J. and Neysmith, S., Economic justice in later life: a Canadian perspective. Social Justice Research, 1, 4 (1987), 461–75.

44 Townsend, P., Elderly people with disabilities. In Walker, A. and Townsend, P. (eds), Disability in Britain., pp. 91118. Martin Robertson, Oxford, 1981.

45 Binstock, R. H., The oldest old: a fresh perspective or compassionate ageism revisited? Millbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 63, 2 (1983), 420–51.

46 Johnson, P. and Falkingham, J., Intergenerational Transfers and Public Expenditure on the Elderly in Modem Britain, p. iii. Centre for Economic Policy Research, London, 1989.

47 Golding, P. and Middleton, S., Images of Welfare. Martin Robertson, Oxford, 1982.

48 Walker, A., Towards a political economy of old age. Ageing and Society, 1, 1 (1981). 7394; idem. The politics of ageing in Britain. In Phillipson, C., Bernard, M. and Strong, P. (eds), Dependency and Interdependency in Old Age, pp. 3045. Croom Helm, London, 1986.

49 Dunleavy, P. and Husbands, C., British Democracy at the Crossroads. Allen & Unwin, London, 1985.

50 Titmuss, R., The social division of welfare. In idem.Essays on ‘the Welfare State’, pp. 34–55. Allen & Unwin, London, 1964.

51 OECD (1988b), op. cit. p. 72.

52 Jones, , op. cit. p. 7.

53 Phillipson, C. and Walker, A., the case for a critical gerontology. In di Gregorio, S. (ed.), Social Gerontology: New Directions, pp. 113. Croom Helm, London 1987.

54 Walker, A., The social creation of poverty and dependency in old age. Journal of Social Policy, 19, 1 (1980). 4975; idem. (1981), op. cit.; Estes, C.The politics of Ageing in America. Ageing and Society, 6 (1986), 121–34.

55 Townsend, P., Ageism and social policy. In Phillipson, C. and Walker, A. (eds), Ageing and Social Policy, pp. 1544. Gower, London, 1986.

56 See, for example, Marshall, V., Later Life: The Social Psychology of Ageing. Sage, California, 1986.

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Ageing & Society
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  • EISSN: 1469-1779
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