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Research looks to generations to end labour gap

Intergenerational contact now needs to extend beyond the family Keystone

A study has called for greater equality among generations to solve the labour gap that is looming under an ageing population.

“Towards an inter-generational policy” gathers together proposals for redressing the balance between greying employees and those just starting out.

Published by the Swiss Academy for Humanities and Social Sciences, the study has been submitted to the speaker of the House of Representatives, Pascale Bruderer-Wyss, for review.

“Never before in the history of mankind has there been such important co-existence between generations,” said Kurt Lüscher, head of the Relations between Generations network, and one of the study co-authors.

“We believe that changes in lifestyle can be transformed and applied to politics in a constructive way, while at the same time encouraging the personal development of individuals.”

The title of the study implies that the road ahead will be long.

“The family is becoming more diversified, with traditional, patchwork or single parent structures,” said Lüscher. “But today there is both ambivalence about intergenerational relationships and a tendency towards individualism. Therefore dialogue between generations also needs to develop outside the family.”

The study says the family pattern of intergenerational relationships should extend towards all society. There is also need for everyone to have a place in the job market to compensate for the ageing population and prevent the predicted bankruptcy of social security funds.

New outlook

Developing an intergenerational policy does not mean adding another layer to social, health, environmental or pension policy, said Gutscher Heinz, president of the Academy. “Rather it is about a different outlook and defining coherent and comprehensive policies for families, education, labour and taxation, which would in turn create new economic potential.”

The Academy’s new publication pays particular attention to early childhood education, family policy, the world of work, neighbourhoods, as well as civil law and inheritance.

According to federal statistics, the shortage of skilled labour is already being felt. In ten years, one-third of Swiss employees will be aged over 50. In 20 years, the ratio between workers and people in retirement will be 2:1, compared with 4:1 today.

According to Markus Zürcher, a sociologist and secretary-general of the Academy, “the ageing population will not be balanced out by immigration and the demand for labour will increasingly outstrip supply”.

“Companies should therefore be focusing as soon as possible [on broadening] the workforce in general, [by employing more] women, young and old people, and the disabled. This could give real opportunities to such workers, who are now rather disadvantaged,” he said.

“Change in lifestyles requires reform of the social security system in the medium-term. Our approach aims to integrate everyone and, therefore, reduce the social costs drastically.”

Different problems

The old and young age groups each bring particular problems. Young people are the “most expensive group”: those over 20 who can’t break into the job market have to be supported throughout their lives, without paying taxes or contributing to the social system in general.

In the older age bracket, extending the retirement age from 65 to 67 – as is expected – will not solve everything. According to the Academy study, one-third of older workers take early retirement and one-third continue to work. Half of the first group are forced to leave and the other half continue to work on financial grounds.

For Zürcher, it’s a waste of resources. Unrealistic ideas about retirement don’t help the situation, he argues. “I am annoyed that banks sell their private pension plans by promising a long holiday under some palm trees. This isn’t true.”

In fact retirement often means the loss of social structure, contacts and professional recognition and the onset of financial difficulties. “Studies show that people who work longer are self-employed or employed by small businesses with three to five staff, [a situation] which allows them to enrich their experience”, said Zürcher.

The Central Union of Swiss Employers and Travail Suisse, an umbrella organisation with about 170,000 members in various sectors of industry, are already working on these issues in a piecemeal way.

The Academy hopes through the study to speed things up. It has invited all those involved to take note of its proposals and participate in a large public forum on November 18 in Bern to develop specific ways forward.

“It’s a long process, but it’s in everyone’s interest,” added Zürcher.

Isabelle Eichenberger (Translated from French by Jessica Dacey)

Founded in 1946, the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences is an institution geared towards the promotion of research and is a member of the Swiss Academies of Sciences.

As an umbrella organisation, it regroups about 60 scientific societies, or 30,000 people.

In 2006, the Relations between generations network was developed in collaboration with the Federal Social Insurance Office and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

It works with nine organisations, including the Migros Culture Percentage organisation, the Swiss Commission for Unesco, the Centre for Gerontology and the Jacobs Foundation, among others.

On August 19, 2010, it presented the sum of its work in a book, “Towards an inter-generational policy”, which will be the focus of a national seminar on November 18.

In 2029, the 131,000 baby boomers of 1964 will turn 65. From then on, the Federal Statistics Office is expecting the inevitable increased ageing of the Swiss population.

In all cantons, the percentage of people aged over 65 will rise to over 20% and there will be massive growth of the proportion of the very elderly (80% of over 80-year-olds by 2030).

Alpine and rural regions are particularly affected. Urban cantons such as Zurich, Geneva, Basel and Vaud will benefit from enough migration movement to rebalance their age pyramid.

The ratio between workers and retired people will increase from 2 to 1 (compared with 4-1 now), with manifold socio-economic consequences.

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