The Elderly Generation

by Magnus Schifter-Holm. Published 14th of February, 2012.

The rapid lifestyle undertaken by contemporary society has been said to be robbing us of our humanity in a certain sense. The ever-increasing hassle of remaining competitive in the job market, the responsibilities and accountability of professional work, and societal pressure are amongst some of the commitments taken, which erode at our daily lives.

As a product of such a culture, the more unproductive of areas, go ignored, and thus, gradually, society has been increasingly side-lining those to whom they owe most gratitude — their ancestors.

A higher average age of mortality, and a lower birth rate means that today's society is constantly aging. People are living longer, and the ratio of elderly population, to that of working age, or underage, is growing in favour of the former. The Western European tradition of the welfare state provides for economical and social stability post-retirement, but an increase in the cost of living means that the taxes paid during their working life to secure pensions, are far from being enough to cover the costs. Furthermore, the global financial instability has taken its hit on social services. In essence, then, even though governments invest heavily for the upkeep of the elderly, it is a burden which they cannot sustain alone. Apart from these factors, the elderly often need some sort of personal care and attention, as advanced age can make even the simplest of tasks, a troublesome hurdle.

Homes for the elderly are a remedy considered to be effective. They are run by qualified staff including nurses and doctors, and are designed specifically to cater towards elderly in aspects of care, including medical, but also in a social manner, as the elderly have the opportunity to mingle with other people, rather than being forcibly secluded in their own house. Thus, they are highly convenient for the contemporary worker. Even if effective however, these have their drawbacks. They are very expensive facilities to run, so amount of available accommodation is often very limited. In fact, commonly, they are run by private companies, rather than governments, charging exorbitant fees in order to be profitable. Thus, homes for the elderly are limited to the lucky few who manage to find a place, and can afford it.

There are also moral considerations in this respect. Many children dispense of their responsibilities to take care of their elderly parents by inducting them into a home for the elderly. Often, the elderly feel abandoned in such a case, especially if the children do not visit regularly, or at least, keep in contact by phone or otherwise.

Thus, the argument being made here is that neither the welfare state, nor homes for the elderly, are ideal remedies for the conflict between a busy lifestyle, and care for your elderly. Traditionally, the children have a moral, if not legal, duty to take care of members of their family — a mutual moral duty born out of the fact that the child was looked after when he was in need.

The fact that some children put their lifestyle ahead of the people in their life, imposes upon a government who has to increase efforts to provide social security, as well as brings about hardship and suffering to the elderly. In doing so, a child would be shirking his social responsibility, and while his career might get in his way, he cannot use it as an excuse to forgo his duties towards his parents. If a sizeable chunk of the population opts in favour of following their daily life and abandoning their elders, the result could be catastrophic, both economically, and socially.

On the other hand, it could be considered illiberal, and almost undemocratic of a government to impinge excessively on the private life of an individual. Obliging children to take care of their parents can be extremely restrictive, especially if there are considerable geographical obstacles in the way, including borders. A balance would have to be discovered as to the legal obligation viz-a-viz an undue and disproportionate burden on the child.

In the Mediterranean culture, the traditional family values are well promoted, and visiting one's parents is considered to be a tradition during at least one day during the weekend. Even so however, there are instances whereby the elderly are abandoned to fend for themselves, or in a home. Fortunately, both the government, as well as other organisations, including non-governmental organisations, and religious organisations invest in homes, medical and nursing care, and other forms of support towards the elderly.

While a legal obligation to take care of one's elders could cause excessive burden, one could experiment with incentives to do so. A particular legal mechanism in my country, for example, rewards a larger part of the inheritance to a child who took care of his parents, in comparison to his other siblings. While doing nothing presents a problem on a national scale, introducing a legal obligation is perhaps too rigid and inflexible. Creating legal incentives would be a good middleground, which could perhaps propel the country towards a culture which is more family-oriented, despite the opposition presented by the contemporary lifestyle.

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