Fact: Ageing affects all of us

Number: 1
Year: 2023

When asked to point at someone who is ageing, many people will intuitively look around for a person over 60. Yet of course, everyone is ageing. We often think of different generations almost as different species. This narrative is amplified by media who popularise ever-present labels, like “boomers”, generations X, Y, Z, and so on. This view amplifies differences between younger and older people, when of course individuals differ, for example, in their distinct needs, priorities and political preferences. 

Group of younger people at a picknick

This “generational view” also exacerbates the idea that older and younger people are in inherent conflict and cannot understand each other.

To talk about ageing, demographers inestead use the expression “life course perspective”1. The life course perspective looks at younger and older people as the same people, only at different stages of their lives, and with their different needs, priorities, and capabilities which change and develop over time. Rather than “us vs them” generations, it is more useful to think of “us at different moments in our lives”. The World Health Organization notes: “Adopting a life-course approach involves taking action early [and] appropriately during life’s transitions.”2

The life course perspective still recognises that access to resources varies throughout people’s lives. Young people may not have much money nor assets, whereas middle-aged people may have more money and assets, but lack time, and those at pension-age might have more time and assets, but their health and finances may be worse. As we all age, we also all move between these different stages.

The main challenge for policy is not how to support one age group at the expense of another, but rather how to make key resources – time, money and assets – more equitably distributed across the life course. This is a challenge both for state policies and for the private sector, and may require re-thinking how credit and insurance currently work in our societies, among other aspects. Regardless, levelling the field requires thinking in the long-term - and recognising that the policies which impact us today also have impacts on how we live tomorrow.

Jakub Bijak, Professor of Statistical Demography, University of Southampton

Further reading related to this Myth Bust

1See the “Handbook on Demographic Change and the Lifecourse” for the newest scientific perspectives on Ageing: https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/gbp/handbook-on-demographic-change-and-the-lifecourse-9781788974868.html

2About the WHO’s Life Course Approach: https://www.who.int/europe/publications/i/item/9789289053266

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