Appreciating age

June 2013

For some time now, those who have their 50th birthday celebrations behind them have not been contenders for entering into early retirement. In fact, they generally still have a large chunk of their working lives ahead of them. For this reason, many different activities and special offers now exist to tempt middle-aged people. Vacations for the young-hearted, for example, which offer a combination of culture, health and fitness. And even if their eyesight is perhaps not what it once was, the clear display of smartphones designed specifically for seniors means that they can still easily call their family while on their travels. Since 2008, the German government’s initiative “Old age, an economic factor” has been focusing on the many aspects of an aging society. The different political parties are also including a range of models for safeguarding retirement age in their agenda, as well as encouraging business to profit from the experience of older employees for as long as possible. The 50+ generation is therefore increasingly becoming the center of attention. However, how valuable do Germans consider this steadily growing demographic group to be? And in turn, how valued do Germans over 50 themselves feel?

Good news first: Germans’ appreciation of those aged over 50 has been rising in recent years, both in politics and business, with the latter either employing these “best agers” or valuing them as customers of their products and services. The perceived appreciation has significantly increased in all three areas since 2008. However, according to Germans there is still quite some room for improvement in how they are viewed in both politics and working life. These are the latest findings of a study entitled “50 plus” conducted by the GfK Verein, surveying approximately 2,000 respondents in Germany on this topic for the second time in May 2013.

In general, more than 50% think that politicians and companies need to put in a little more effort when it comes to valuing the contribution of the older generation. Businesses particularly need to focus on employment levels of the over 50s. Almost 70% of Germans think that the older generation is not being adequately utilized by businesses. In contrast, their appeal as customers has been recognized. More than half the respondents think that over 50s have a high standing when it comes to their role as consumers.

Development of appreciation: better, but not yet good

Be it an invitation to the demographics summit from Chancellor Angela Merkel, Deutsche Bahn less-ening the burden with demography-specific collective bargaining agreements or talk shows being dominated by discussion on pensions: Germany is confronting the issue of an aging society head on and the public debate is evidently beginning to bear fruit. The view that there is positive appreciation of older people has increased across all age groups. Regardless of whether respondents are still at school or already retired, the number that think politics and the economy generally value those aged over 50 has increased significantly since 2008.

In light of the growing influence of this age group, this does seem to be necessary. In 2011, more than half of all spending on fast moving consumer goods was attributable to households where the head was over the age of 50, which is four percentage points more than in 2008. This age group now constitutes a third of all employees on the labor market, which is also an increase of four percentage points in five years. Of those entitled to vote, the share of over 50s increased from 48% to 51% between 2006 and 2011, and according to figures from the Federal Returning Officer, Roderich Egeler this has increased to 52% for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Whether at the ballot box, the supermarket checkout or work, the significance of the over 50s has been growing for many years and this trend looks set to continue.

Employers: make greater use of experience

There is no doubt that this development also brings with it a number of challenges – the over-stretched care funds to name but one. However, this is only one side of the coin. The German population is of the opinion that the economy is wasting far too much potential. Overall, 85% think that the contribution which older people can make to the economy is being underutilized. Five years ago, this figure was 88%, so there has only been a very small improvement in the general impression that talent is being underexploited.

However, this opinion is not just held by older people, who are perhaps forced to leave working life too early or are unable to find a new job once they reach a certain age, as respondents aged between 14 and 49 also take a similar view. Overall, 81% of younger respondents are convinced that Germany’s economy could benefit more greatly from the experience and expertise of older workers than it does at present.

Old and young: no competition for jobs

Is the younger generation not afraid of getting a raw deal because of the rising numbers of older people? Do older Germans not block jobs, meaning younger workers don’t stand a chance? According to the data, there is no such cross-generational conflict. Fewer than one in five think that older people should retire earlier and make space for the next generation in the working world. Just five years ago, a quarter of respondents thought that this should happen and looking at just the under 50s, almost 30% wanted the “old” to make space for the “young” (2013: 20%).

The general economic and labor market conditions in Germany will certainly have contributed to this easing of the situation. According to Eurostat, the number of unemployed has fallen from more than 3.3 million Germans in 2008 to nearly 2 million at present. In addition, youth unemployment has fallen. While the under 25s unemployment rate was 11.2% in January 2008, it dropped to 7.7% in January this year, despite the eurozone crisis.

Older customers: attention please!

“Woodstock instead of a walking stick” – this was the motto of the “agilia” exhibition, which boasts of being an experience for “the young-hearted over 50” and was recently held in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Several hundred exhibitors presented the latest products and services for the 50+ generation. This trade fair is not the only one that has recognized the potential of best agers as an attractive clientele. However, 56% of Germans still think this is not enough. In their view, the economy does not care enough about older customers. And the level of criticism increases with age. Among those aged over 50, almost two in three think that they are not being paid sufficient attention.

“Every age counts” was the title of the demographics strategy launched by the German government a little over a year ago. Its aim was to confront the issue of an aging population to ensure that risks are minimized and opportunities are exploited. Germans have clearly already recognized these opportunities and for this reason wish that politics and business would also show greater appreciation for older people. Respondents seem to very much agree with Henry Ford, who knew that: “You take all of the experience and judgment of men over 50 out of the world and there wouldn't be enough left to run it.”

Data source: GfK Verein

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