Demographic change: active in the future
Our series ‘The World of Tomorrow’ examines the future and reports on trends and innovative research projects. Today we look in the mirror and observe our society. A fundamental demographic change is taking place in Germany: on average people are living longer, staying healthier for longer, and having fewer children. The exhibitions, discussions and research projects in the Science Year 2013 reveal the opportunities and challenges associated with this shift.
Every year since 2000, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the initiative Science in Dialogue (Wissenschaft im Dialog, WiD) have organised a Science Year with a modern slogan. For twelve months, partners from science, business, education, culture and politics organise exhibitions, discussions and hands-on activities for the general public on their premises. Adults and children can find out about current research into each topic and discover what concrete contributions science makes to our lives.
The Science Year 2013 is dedicated to the topic of demographic change. This term describes developments in the population. Under the slogan ‘The Demographic Opportunity’, scientists and researchers will share knowledge and ideas with the partners and other interested persons on the following three aspects of demographic change: ‘We are living longer. We are becoming fewer. We are becoming ever more diverse.’
Young and old shape the demographic change together
The trend is visible not only in Germany, but right across Europe. We are becoming older and older – or put another way, our life expectancy is increasing. The reasons for this are better medical care, healthier food and more exercise. Demographic change is being investigated by scientists in various disciplines such as medicine, biology and sport. Amongst other things, they are attempting to answer the question of what will make us healthy and active for as long as possible.
Ageing is also the subject of research in education. What opportunities are there in lifelong learning, and how can our brains retain the ability to learn in old age? A new way of thinking is needed to answer these questions and similar ones, and to put research results into practice successfully.
Research project ‘New Way of Thinking’
The consequences of a fundamental demographic change are however also a concern for politicians. New concepts help, for example, in facing the challenges of an increasing need for nursing care for the elderly. For instance, the German Federal Government promotes care-oriented communities where older people can live independently under a common roof for as long as possible, with care services available to them.
Given that ‘we are becoming fewer’, businesses also have to develop a new way of thinking. As the birth rate remains low in Germany and the population is shrinking, companies are trying to retain their qualified older employees for as long as possible while attracting the next generation, or more women and specialists from other countries. The TANDEM research project, for example, promotes the exchange of competences and experience between older and younger employees.
The demographic change is varied
A demographic change not only alters different age structure, but also alters the relationship between native residents and immigrants. Germany’s cultural richness is based on the coexistence of people of different origins. Not only the country’s culture benefits from this diversity – so does its economy, because a shrinking society poses the question of how to maintain our ability to innovate and be competitive.
For example, researchers at the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences are investigating the conditions under which women from immigrant families in Germany are successful. They use curricula vitae to examine factors that either promote or hold back their career development, so that recommendations can then be issued for future personnel development.