Both the United States and France are facing the challenges that come with aging populations. More broadly, countries around the world are experiencing the good fortune that people are living longer, and they are living longer in better health. For the first time in the history of human civilization, people aged 65 and older will outnumber children under age 5.
The senior revolution that we will experience in the decades to come will force us to act. We must imagine a new world of peace among all ages, where all generations can live together in harmony. The challenge is even greater because we, both in France and in America, live in cultures that put a premium on the qualities and values that we mainly associate with youth. A world where seniors have a role is one where they are considered citizens before being considered elderly—a world that erases, as much as possible, discrimination related to age. We’re looking closely at what the United States is doing for its seniors—and, of course, at AARP, which is a center for innovation—even if our cultures of public policy and political process mean that our solutions do not always follow the same path. France and the United States have had different approaches in their history. We chose in France, since 1945, a pay-as-you-go system, where working people contribute for pensioners, it is the heart of our solidarity system. I believe, however, that we can mutually enhance our approaches. That is why I am so pleased by the dialogue that has been cultivated on these pages. Our two countries have been allies since the birth of the United States; the bonds that unite us are grounded in the history that we share and the common values that we defend.
A Demographic Shift in France
France is undergoing a process of demographic transition, characterized by an increase in the longevity of the French people and the continuous growth of the eldest age groups. There are currently more than 15 million people ages 60 and over; there will be 24 million in 2060. The number of those over 85 will almost quadruple by 2050. In 2060, 1 out of every 3 people will be older than 60.
While for several years our country has been experiencing one of the highest birth rates in Europe, we don’t want to view this “senior revolution” as a sign of decline but, rather, as the opposite: it is a sign of considerable progress, as it is a result of an increase in life expectancy, enabling a large number of French people to live longer and in better health.
For the French government, which guarantees intergenerational support through its public pension system, established in 1945, it has become important to meet the needs brought about by the aging population as well as the needs of people with disabilities.
The response to the senior revolution challenge must be universal: everyone is affected by age. Although aging-related policies have been constructed in stages and often in isolation, the goal of my administration is to make them cohesive, to establish a global framework, and to ensure the equality of all citizens who are at risk of losing their autonomy.
Society must adapt to be inclusive of seniors—they are the backbone of our social and civic fabric, especially considering their essential contributions to family solidarity (retirees are often enlisted to care for their grandchildren) and to civic engagement (many community volunteers are retirees). In essence, we can judge a society based on how it treats its elderly. Aging is too often associated with illness, dependence, and exclusion. The challenge of our century will be bringing generations together to build a positive and renewed image of our seniors. Adapting our society to aging means establishing a societal model founded on brotherhood and solidarity.
In France, official policies related to adapting society for an aging population are based on three essential pillars:
1. Foresight to prevent the loss of autonomy, at both the individual and the collective levels: Preventing and detecting risk factors that contribute to the loss of autonomy is critical and allows, on the one hand, for the proposal of adapted prevention programs when necessary and, on the other hand, for the facilitation of access to equipment (support bars, walkers, etc.) designed to delay the loss of autonomy. From a collective point of view, it is a question of anticipating, rather than enduring, the aging of our fellow citizens so that its effects on autonomy are not inevitable.
2. Adaptation of our society: Age should not be a factor for discrimination or exclusion. We need to change views on aging. This depends not only on forming new social relationships by bringing generations together but also by reaffirming seniors’ rights so that they are not ignored. It’s by rethinking public policies—specifically those related to housing, urban planning, and transportation, but also those related to the rights of the elderly and their civic engagement—that we can achieve a more unified and inclusive society. For this to work, the engagement must be shared and involve all stakeholders: the economic sector, all aspects of the government, and also civil society (with caregivers who mobilize to assist their loved ones when they lose autonomy).
3. Support for the loss of autonomy: The priority is to allow those who wish to live at home to do so, in good conditions; this is what seniors prefer. The recent reevaluation by law of the senior allowance helps improve their opportunities to receive a better support at home. The measure allows our seniors to make choices about their lives with dignity. Caregivers, the key players in intergenerational solidarity, deserve to be acknowledged by society. They need to be allowed to take time off, and they also need to be provided with additional home assistance. Society as a whole needs to recognize caregivers’ value.
France’s Position within the Silver Economy
But the senior revolution will also lead to economic development and the creation of companies that meet the needs and goals of the elderly. The longevity of the French population represents a large potential not just for the service sector but also for industrial job creation.
It’s an industry that will permeate all markets. In the “Silver Economy,” economic stakeholders will need to be able to innovate to improve quality of life and increase life expectancy. Companies, regardless of their industry, will also need to adapt their offerings to the aging population. Doing so will create a link between generations that no longer interact. The French Tech city certification program is also focusing on the Silver Economy by offering seniors innovative solutions at the cutting edge of technology.
The Silver Economy presents an opportunity to support the elderly in their life goals. Ninety percent of elderly people in France would like to grow old in their homes. Often, that home is associated with memories and emotional comfort, but it is also a place associated with life. The development of the Silver Economy is lowering the costs related to making adaptations in the home for greater accessibility, which amount to accommodations or home security. Sometimes, only small interior renovations are needed to allow an elderly person to stay in his or her home.
The Silver Economy is also a chance to bring research and innovation to life in order to develop useful solutions for the well-being of vulnerable populations. To that end, Living-Labs apply laboratory research to everyday life to test services, tools, and new ways to use existing products on a large scale.
As aging is a global phenomenon that progressively affects all economies, it is necessary to consider it, anticipate it, and to make it an economic driver as well as an engine for cooperation and social progress.
I would like to thank AARP for allowing me to express myself in the pages of this journal, and I would also like to wish all of its readers a fulfilling life of projects and undertakings as they continue to work together to disrupt aging.
about the author
In March 2008, Pascale Boistard was elected Deputy Mayor of Paris, responsible for the integration of non-EU nationals. She was elected to parliament in 2012, becoming secretary of the Foreign Affairs Committee. She was appointed Minister of State for Elderly People and Adult Care in February 2016.