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ARTÍCULOS

LONGEVITY- A CHALLENGE FOR THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE SOCIETY


Introduction

We are living in an aging world. Never before in Spain, in Germany, in Europe, in the whole world so many people could reach such an advanced age. There is an enormous extension of the lifespan in all European countries, but also in all countries of the world. This is due to the improvement of the socio-economic living conditions and the progress of modern medicine, - and it is also influenced by the life style.

But it is not only important to add years to life, but also to add life to years. Many years ago HANS SCHAEFER, a wellknown expert of social medicine and professor of the University of Heidelberg has stated: „Our life expectancy is dependent from our life style. Life expectancy does not only mean length of life, but also quality of life. It does not only count how old one will be, but how one will get old."(SCHAEFER,1975). 

Aging in Europe takes place differently in each country or region. Even within each country, aging has many different faces. Aging itself is not only a biological process, but it is a process determined by a number of biological, social and ecological factors. There is a difference between people of the same chronological age within the same country – a difference which is sometimes more prominent than the difference 60 to 70 years olds and 70 to 80 years old.

Aging today, at the beginning of the new century, is completely different from what is used to be of the beginning of the last century. Far more people reach the age of 60, 80 or even 100 years. The life style has changed; everyday life is easier in many aspects. For instance the legendary „wash day", house keeping and food organization in times without refrigerators had been more difficult in former times. But at the same time every day life has become more difficult, e.g. the family situation, the traffic situation - although older people also profit considerably from it. Trips to far away countries remain no longer wishful thinking for many of the elderly; they can become reality. A better education, more knowledge of foreign languages and a better status of health and very often a better financial situation is typical for the old of today in comparison to the old of yesterday in many European countries.

But aging has many faces: There is the competent and wise senior, who is able to manage his own life, who is integrated into the society, who lives on a relatively high standard on the one hand and there is the ill, helpless and dependent senior who needs help and support on the other hand.

Scientists of all disciplines and faculties have to discuss the question of longevity combined with a state of psycho-physical wellbeing. What can be done to assure a healthy aging? What can be done to assure the quality of life in old age? What can be done to prevent illness, diseases and dependency in old age?

These questions will be discussed in the second part of my lecture. In the first part I shall refer to the demographic change and its consequences for the individual and the society. The demographic change is caused by an increase of the life expectancy and an decrease of the birth rates,
 
 

I. The demographic change

Europe is turning grey. I will discuss the demographic trends in population change and its consequences under 5 aspects:

1: The rise of the individual life expectancy

The life expectancy of newborns in Europe is among the highest in the world: 74 years for males and 80 years for females. These are exactly the numbers of Germany. - In Spain in 1995 the life expectancy of a newborn boy was 73.2 years, of a newborn girl 81.2 years.

The worldwide average is 61 and 64 years. There are, however, great differences between the different countries. in Africa it is 52 years, and in Japan it is for males and females 80 years

In most of the European countries a 60 years old person can expect 20 to 24 more years. That means: after retirement a person will live about 20-25 more years – one fourth of his /her life! Most of the persons today are not prepared for such a long period in a postoccupational – and a postparental (!) – stage

2: The aging population, the graying society

One hundred years ago the percentage of persons 60 years and older in Germany was 5%; to-day it is 22%. In the year 2030 it will be 35-38% - and here in Spain it is very similar: About 20% of the population in the European States is older than 60 years. Predictions show that this portion will increase strongly until the year 2020. Italy predicts 29,9%, Belgium 28,8%, Finland 28,2% Germany 27.7%.and Spain 27.2%. The lowest portion is predicted for Ireland with only 21.8%, followed by Denmark (24,3%) and the Netherlands (24,8%) (WALKER et al., 1997) 15,5% of Europe`s population in 1995/1996 was older than 65; Sweden with 17,5%, Italy with 16,8% and Belgium with 16% took top places. In Germany 15.4% and in Spain 15.5% of the population was 65 years and older. The lowest portion had Finland with only 10.3%, Iceland with 11.3% and Ireland with 11,5%. These countries have higher birth-rates. In all our countries there is a development of the population structure from a pyramide to a mushroom..

If you compare the figures of population development from 1995 to 2025 in Europe, Latin America and Asia you can see, there is relatively little change in Europe, but an enormous change in Latin America and Asia. That means, the increase of the elderly population in the next future will be very,very high in the developing countries

We also got an increase in the group of the 80, 90 and 100 year-old-persons. 30 years ago we have had only 385 centenarians in our country, in 1994 we have had more than 5000 – and now the estimated number of persons, which were born 189x is about 10.000. - You in Spain have also an remarkable increase of the oldest population;.

Now there are worldwide studies on centenarians – and we can summarize the findings and state: One third of them are very competent and able to manage their daily life; another third needs some help, but is able to go out of the house. Only the last third is bedridden and needs help and care.

Scientists of all disciplines and faculties, administrators and practioners, and politicians, too, have to discuss the question of longevity combined with a state of psychophysical wellbeing.

As it was mentioned, the demographic change has two important reasons: the increase of the life expectancy on the one hand and the decrease of the birth rate on the other hand, which you can find in all the European countries. The average number of birth in the countries of the European Union is 1.43; Ireland has the highest fertility rate with 1,87, Italy and Spain the lowest with 1.18 resp.1.17, followed by Germany with 1.24 .- We do not expect that the fertility rate will increase in the European countries during the next years.

Relationships between sociopolitical measures on the one hand and fertility on the other hand can not be demonstrated in a significant way. The rise of the children`s bonus or the introduction of maternal or parental leaves and their extension to three years in Germany did not enhance the birth rate even if the leave is granted with a guarantee to return to the former job. From a psychological point of view the motivation for having children is of main interest. Actually it is a bundle of motives which becomes effective here

- the better possibility of family planing and birth control;

- the „instrumental" motivation for a child became increasingly ineffective. Due to the pension-system the function of children as a financial support for the own age is no longer vaild. Also the child as man-power, especially among farmers, is no needed. The function of the sons as „Stammhalter" no longer is an important motive especially as daughters do-day can continue to keep their former family name after marriage.

- In the political discussion about fertility children are perceived increasingly as a burden and costs while the pleasure and enrichment from children is not emphasized in a sufficient way.

- the theory of the continuos presence of the mother influenced many women with a good academic and professional training to stay in their job instead of having a child.

- unfavorable economic, ecological and housing conditions

- Today most women undergo a long period of occupational training; marriage no longer is a condition for living together; therefore marriage is delayed into middle adulthood which lowers the biological chances for having more than one child.

- Another psychological factor influencing fertility is related to the social role of women. Formerly they lived in their own nuclear family until they married. An adjustment to the own family was necessary. The women, very well trained in adjustement to other family members, were used to delay the satisfaction of their own needs. Today women leave their parental home with 20 years or earlier and stay independent. Through this life style they develop individuality, personality and the desire for self-realization. After ten years of this way of living very often it is difficult to adjust the own behavior and wishes to that of a partner (which may be one of the reasons for the high rates of divorce in our country). Even more it is difficult for the women to adjust to the needs of one or more children. – As this extended independent young life style can not be reversed, the chances for a rise of the birth rate in Germany and similar European countries are rather poor.

And so political measures influencing fertility rates are very limited.

3: The proportion between the different age groups.

One hundred years ago, the proportion of persons beyond and below 75 years of age in our country was 1:79; 1925 the ratio was 1:67; 1936 it was 1:45, 1950 1:35, 1970 1:25, 1994 1:14,8 and in the year 2000 it will be 1:6,2.

There is an important change in the structure of the households, too. We have a trend from the three-gener