Ageing: a social challenge?

Imagem de Glen Hodson por Unspash

The increasing awareness that in the western world more people are living to a later age, but that there may be fewer people available for the care required, has made it essential to consider attitudes and behaviours regarding ageism and cooperation with the most immediate network.

Carlos Barros

The difficulty to support various age groups has increased, creating pressure on what should be effective social support and solidarity – whether this is on a state level or more micro and informal, such as support from family or friends.

Considering Portugal as the focus of analysis, the ageing index – the ratio between the elderly population and the young population – has been increasing. The rate increases year after year, but if we consider the data after the beginning of the century, in 2000, it was 98.8%, in 2010 it rose to 121.6% and in the most recent data, of 2021, it increased to 182.7%[1] .

Certainly, the longevity of the population has also increased, including this variable in the complex social scenario. If at the beginning of the century the longevity rate was 41.4%, it has now increased to 48.8%. This means that the number of people aged seventy-five or more for every hundred people aged sixty-five has increased. Portugal, consequently having a elderly population[2],[3] .

On the other hand, if we check the data provided by Pordata (2022), we also see that the youth dependency index – the relationship between the young population and the working age population – has been decreasing gently. From 22.9% in 2010, we will fall to 20.2% in 2021.

This worldwide perception of increased longevity/average life expectancy, decreasing birth rate, (natural) number of dependent people and increased migration based on the search for job stability, which affect the constitution of any family form, has concerned theorists on issues of ageing, well-being and intergenerational relations[4] .

Thus, more than ever, the study of solidarity is of high pertinence, seems people live longer and, therefore, it is necessary to consider new demands for health maintenance, accessibility, leisure or even economic support.

This is a challenge that virtually all societies today are confronting. It has become evident that as life expectancy increases, the number of generations living together within each family increases, while the number of people in each generation consistently decreases[5] . Ageing and longer life expectancy are transforming the age structure of societies from a triangle to a rectangle. This transformation reveals that the proportion of children, young people, middle-aged people and the elderly will soon be approximately the same [6].

The increasing awareness that in the western world more people are living to a later age, but that there may be fewer people available for the care required, has made it essential to consider attitudes and behaviours regarding ageism and cooperation with the most immediate network: the family[7].

These concerns are verified in the creation, study and deepening of the concept and networks of intergenerational solidarity. The number of challenges that require adjustment increases in family groups and it is necessary to rethink the social groups that may be in a societal periphery, lacking initiatives of assistance, care and human promotion in distinct phases. I would highlight, in this exercise of reflection, young adults seeking autonomy, hampered by precarious labour conditions and, on the other hand, elderly people who tend to age more and more helplessly, as a result of their children and grandchildren having to emigrate or living at a fast pace that prevents them from providing support in vital stages (e.g. transition to retirement).

In the family context, intergenerational solidarity may translate into an eminent relationship of empowerment and a feeling of security and support, as well as a feeling of security in the face of failures of state support. Cooperation between generations becomes culturally assimilated, empowered by the working-age elements and close mutual support relations are created[8].

Some literature[9] suggests that the family and its solidarity relations can be understood in a framework of individual or group resilience by focusing on structures of:

  • Opportunity, where it is important to think about what resources and opportunities are available;
  • Need, usually financial, or functional support (e.g. cases of illness), or even emotional, where the importance of advice and companionship are highlighted as values that promote maintenance or tension in the face of the elements;
  • Size and composition, which may change the norms and roles expected by each element that constitutes the family group;
  • Cultural or contextual, which dictates how the family adjusts according to the context of protection or exposure, namely social policies for the family.

Thus, in their diversity, family structures may represent an excellent immediate support to avoid more fragile situations, standing as mutual support – top-down and bottom-up. Naturally, these dynamics change according to the country, the proximity-distance of the group members, but they may be vital to more connection, less uncertainty about the present/future, not forgetting the perception of belonging that boosts our well-being on a path towards equity.


[1] Pordata (2022). Indicadores de envelhecimento. [online] https://www.pordata.pt/Portugal/Indicadores+de+envelhecimento-526 [Accessed 14.07.2022].

[2]Pordata (2022). Indicadores de envelhecimento. [online] https://www.pordata.pt/Portugal/Indicadores+de+envelhecimento-526 [Accessed 14.07.2022].

[3] INE (2021). Projeções de População Residente em Portugal. [online] https://www.ine.pt/xportal/xmain?xpid=INE&xpgid=ine_destaques&DESTAQUESdest_boui=406534255&DESTAQUESmodo=2&xlang=pt [Accessed 15.07.2022].

[4] Antonucci, T. C., Jackson, J. S., & Biggs, S. (2007). Intergenerational relations: Theory, research, and policy. Journal of Social Issues, 63(4), 679-693. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00530.x

[5] Antonucci, T. C., Jackson, J. S., & Biggs, S. (2007). Intergenerational relations: Theory, research, and policy. Journal of Social Issues, 63(4), 679-693. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00530.x

[6]  Bengston, V.L., Lowenstein, A., Putney, N.M. & Gans, D. (2003). Global aging and the challenge to families. In V. L. Bengston & A. Lowenstein (Eds.). Global aging and challenges to families (pp. 1-24). Aldine de Gruyter.

[7] Albert, I., & Ferring, D. (2013). Grandparent-grandchild relations in a changing society: Different types and roles. In I. Albert & D. Ferring (Eds.). Intergenerational relations: European perspectives in family and society (pp. 147-165). Policy Press.

[8] Binstock, R. (2005). Old-age policies, politics, and ageism. Generations, 29(3), 73-78.

[9] Coimbra, S., Ribeiro, L., & Fontaine, A.M. (2013). Intergenerational solidarity in an ageing society: Sociodemographic determinants of intergenerational support to elderly parents. In I. Albert & D. Ferring (Eds.). Intergenerational relations: European perspectives on family and society (pp. 205- 222). The Policy Press.

* Cover Image Creative Commons License Type 

**Please find the portuguese version on the next page

**Por favor, aceda à próxima página para a versão portuguesa da publicação 


Você pode gostar...

Deixe uma resposta

O seu endereço de email não será publicado.

Este site utiliza o Akismet para reduzir spam. Fica a saber como são processados os dados dos comentários.

Pesquisar OpenEdition Search

Você sera redirecionado para OpenEdition Search