ISSJ - N° 190 - Active Ageing

December 2006

Population ageing represents a major social achievement: the manifestation of progress and improvement in the human condition. It is also an issue of global concern that requires concerted, well-focused and forward-looking policy measures at the national, regional and international levels. Such is the international consensus expressed in the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and reiterated in the follow-up report by the UN Secretary-General in 2007. What is crucial in this respect is that ageing is not just a matter for policies directed towards old people – although progress is clearly required in many areas – but a comprehensive policy challenge that affects modes of social integration, rights and welfare across all ages. Health, pensions, housing, transport, employment, citizenship: in all of these areas ageing is a key driver of change; yet none of them can be reduced to an “old people’s” agenda.

In so far as Europe is the most rapidly ageing continent, some social and policy debates have advanced further there than elsewhere. Reporting on the results of a major research project funded by the European Union, this issue offers a critical assessment of one paradigm developed to deal with the comprehensive and cross-cutting nature of ageing as a social and policy challenge. This is the idea that demographic change can not only be coped with but even turned into an opportunity if ageing is conceived as an active process based on strong and shared ideas of social participation and citizenship. Lip-service to the idea of “active ageing” – and to the principle that ageing is not simply a “problem” – is now widespread in European policy circles. But how seriously are the implications taken – and does it make any difference? The broadly sceptical conclusions of the studies in this issue underline the continued need for strong social science input to policy and public debate.

Back to top