Longer lives are a triumph in human history. Yet many observers regard ageing populations as a problem, in large part due to the costs of caring for older people. For these observers, the success of twentieth-century public policy in expanding longevity contains the seeds of a crisis for twenty-first-century social policy. This belief in the inevitability of an age-related fiscal crisis often coincides with a belief in the inevitability of intergenerational conflict over public spending priorities.  

Fortunately, these beliefs are incorrect. In fact, there is not much evidence that population ageing irreparably imperils health systems, economies, or societies. Why then, do so many policymakers act like it does? 

In this session, based on new book from the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and published by Cambridge University Press entitled “Ageing and health: the politics of better policies” the speakers dismantle conventional wisdom on the economic, societal and political consequences of population ageing and consider what it takes to get life course policies in place that benefit people of all ages.  

Most of the problems ascribed to inequality between generations (intergenerational equity) are actually a result of inequality within society as a whole that spans across age groups (intragenerational equity). Policies that address these broader inequalities are also often the best for addressing the specific needs of older or younger people. These policies are built on the life-course perspective, which focuses on identifying the policies which can make people happier and healthier at all ages by drawing on the context and circumstances under which aging occurs. It is possible to construct coalitions of politicians and interests that can develop and support sophisticated life-course policies that lessen the burdens of ageing and health on everybody. Rather than focusing on – or creating – conflict between generations over scarce resources, life-course policies which improve the health and productivity of people at all ages are more effective ways to produce health, equity, and economic sustainability.  

The takeaway message is that intergenerational inequality is not, and need not be, a significant problem. It is substantially a product of current and past intragenerational inequality, and in fact inequality between generations often goes with inequality within generations. Intergenerational conflict is a distraction from policies that promote greater equality within and between generations – talk of an ageing crisis is frequently just another version of longstanding arguments against public social investment from cradle to grave.  

Join the session on Thursday, 16 September at 10.00, and discuss ageing and health with esteemed speakers and panelists: Prof Scott L. Greer, University of Michigan; Prof Julia Lynch, University of Pennsylvania; Ass. Prof Aaron Reeves, University of Oxford; Dr Michelle Falkenbach, Cornell University; Prof Jane Gingrich, University of Oxford; Dr Jonathan Cylus, European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies; and Prof Clare Bambra, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.