Our world is aging. Longevity is a triumph and cause for celebration, but it requires new thinking from everybody and from every one's government. One of the things we have to ensure is that, as the United Nations Year for Older People in 1999 reminded us, we have to make a reality of “solidarity between the generations.”
We will live in a changed world by the middle of this century. Across the globe, by 2050, one in every five people will be aged over 60 with a life expectancy of 76 years. There will be as many older people as children under age 14 and, in many countries, older people will outnumber the young. This age shift will be particularly dramatic in developing countries, where over 70% of older people now live and where there are often no systems of social security and immense shortages of affordable or available health care. In this changing world we have to ensure that barriers between generations are not allowed to develop or the strong links between them will fade. The share of youth in the world’s total population is gradually shrinking, and youth development will increasingly be viewed for the potential benefits it can bring to other generations. Despite its changing structure, the family remains the first social institution where generations meet and interact.
Albania is the youngest of the Balkans countries, with nearly half the population under 25 and a ‘bulge’ of middle-aged persons (the baby-boomers of the 1960s). Although traditional values place a high value on older people and families, older people consulted report that they are increasingly considered a burden by younger generations. The situation of older people varies considerably between rural and urban areas. In urban areas, older people lack social networks and experience widespread loneliness; in rural areas older people highlight particular problems relating to poverty and a lack of access to services, particularly health care, specifically older woman. (“Poverty has the face of Older Woman is not a slogan, is a reality –Senior Public Health Specialist & Executive Director of Albanian Society for All Ages (ASAG) –Mira Pirdeni”).The most popular plan is the public “pay-as-you-go” model where coverage is usually universal. Under this model, the government mandates, finances, manages, and insures public pensions.
This raises questions about the responsibilities of individuals within the family and the capacities of welfare systems to meet old-age pension and health-care needs. The interdependence between younger and older people will increase in the future. Youth development will become a more urgent prerequisite for meeting the growing care demands of older people and a condition for the development of society as a whole. Related members of different generations continue to live with one another in the family context. However, family structures are undergoing profound changes. There has been a shift from extended to nuclear families and an increase in one-person households. The age at first marriage has risen to the mid- to late twenties in many areas, often owing to extended educational careers and delayed entry into the labour market, particularly for young women. There is also a trend towards later childbearing and having fewer children.
“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community
want for all its children.” As such, adoption becomes just one moment of a much longer process of supported family development that weaves the adoptive family into a larger inter-generational community.
Imagine that today we are sitting on the planet Mars, and tomorrow we are to descend to Earth. We have no idea whether we will land on the top of the social pile or at the bottom; we might end up in Manhattan, Beijing, or the Sudan. In such circumstances, we might well prefer social arrangements that would be acceptable regardless of where we find ourselves. Of necessity, such arrangements would be equitable and just.
The social contract is seen as a form of compact or agreement, actual or hypothetical, between those who rule and those who are ruled. In the inter-generational model, the agreement forms between the older and younger generations. Like any contract entered into by two parties, it attempts to define the rights and duties of each in a reciprocal agreement.
Historians may look at obligations that the old and young had toward each other in the past and how that has changed over time. Anthropologists may choose to compare inter-generational relationships across different societies in search of a universal notion of justice. Philosophers might focus on whether the generosity and selfishness in one person’s life can be compared with the generosity and selfishness in another person’s life at different stages of their personal development. Economists may want to explore the allocation of public goods to persons of different ages, and ask whether any given concept of justice can be achieved economically. And, while sociologists may focus on how families allocate the burdens of caring for their old and young, political scientists may examine how these burdens are addressed in formulating, implementing, and evaluating public policy.
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