Ageing without kids. Is there a price to be paid? New research presented at European Parliament seminar

Professor Emily Grundy, Director of ISER and Professor of Population Science at the University of Essex, was among the key note speakers at the recent seminar organised by The Generations & Gender Programme (GGP) and Population Europe at the European Parliament with the support of the MEP’s Alessia Mosca, Brando Benifei and Emilian Pavel.

The event was part of the dissemination activities of the EU-project The Generations & Gender Programme – Evaluate, Plan, Initiate (GGP-EPI). Its main objective was to present and discuss findings from research on Transition to Adulthood and the future needs young generations may face in terms of family formation and ageing, and to discuss the fundamental role of social science research infrastructures in supporting this research.

The event was chaired by Anne H. Gauthier (Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI), Scientific Coordinator of the Generations & Gender Programme, and Professor of Comparative Family Studies, University of Groningen). Francesco Billari (Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Demography at Bocconi University, Milan), Trude Lappegård (Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Oslo) and Emily Grundy (Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Professor of Population Science at the University of Essex) participated as speakers.

The presentations were followed by a panel debate involving researchers and stakeholders from policy, research and civil society: Robert Anderson (Head of Social Policies Unit, Eurofound), Laura Castiglioni (Head of Family Policy and Family Support Unit, Deutsches Jugendinstitut), Philippe Seidel Leroy (Policy and EP Liaison Officer, AGE Platform Europe), Pearl Dykstra (Professor of Empirical Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Deputy Chair of the High Level Group of scientists advising the Cabinet of European Commissioners), Miguel de la Corte Rodriguez (Legal Officer, European Commission, Gender Equality Unit) and Annemie Drieskens (President of COFACE-Families Europe).

Alessia Mosca, MEP welcomed the participants of the seminar by stressing the need of following the developments in the lives of those living in Europe, as their hopes and needs are changing: we need better data to create policies allowing sustainable well-being for younger generations. Emilian Pavel, MEP echoed Ms Mosca in the welcoming words and highlighted the importance of strengthen collaboration of the European Parliament with European Data Infrastructures.

Ageing without kids. Is there a price to be paid?

Emily Grundy presented findings of her study on the implications of childlessness in old ages. Generations are linked, and data from the Generations & Gender Programme allows for the study of transitions to parenthood, marital histories and the reality of people that are aged 75+ who have no living children. According to Professor Grundy, we are on cusp of a change with increase in numbers of 75+ aged women and men without living children. Her results indicate that on average, those in old age without children reported that they have fewer people that they can rely on. She also showed that individuals with lower family links were more likely to present increased levels of cognitive decline and depression. Professor Grundy finalised her presentation by highlighting important differences between Eastern and Western Europe.

Towards a new pattern of transition to adulthood?

Francesco Billari presented some of the main findings of his research on the socio-economic background of young adults and how it influences their transition to adulthood. His results point to a trend towards diverging patterns depending on parental socio-economic status (SES), but divergences tend to be smaller in more equal societies. Regarding policy implications, Billari stressed the role played by social policies and institutional arrangements in shaping opportunities and realization of individual plans. He stressed that it is crucial to look at independence in young adulthood as a multi-dimensional process: individuals need more support in terms of housing, work, education, and family life. However, “one size does not fit all’: there is great diversity within and between countries, and local initiatives supporting young people should be further promoted.

Will the younger generations have new demands for social policies?

Trude Lappegård presented her most recent findings on childbearing based on data from the Generations & Gender Programme. According to Lappegård, GGP data is essential to understand mechanisms beyond low fertility in Europe. Her results show that childbearing decisions among young Europeans is highly connected to gender equality, social policies and economic conditions. However, even quite generous social policies cannot compensate completely for changes in the labor market and increasing economic uncertainty, particularly among the lowest educated. Lappegård concluded her presentation by stressing that this finding poses a new challenge for policy makers: if we want less social inequality, we need to know whether access to family life is becoming a pathway to social exclusion, and how we can better reach different groups with social policies.

Brando Benifiei (MEP) closed the session by stressing that policy makers need to ensure that individuals can make own choices during their life course. Regarding social rights, Benifei emphasised that more needs to be done for caregivers, parental leave and social cohesion in general. Moreover, young people need to regain trust in political affairs. Finally, he recommended to better listening the voices and interests of people – through robust social science data resources and research – in order to be able to consider these views in policy making.

Panel Debate: New life courses, new policies?

In the panel debate that followed the presentations, Robert Anderson (Eurofound), Laura Castiglioni (Deutsches Jugendinstitut), Philippe Seidel Leroy (AGE Platform Europe), Pearl Dykstra (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Miguel de la Corte Rodriguez (European Commission) and Annemie Drieskens (COFACE-Families Europe) discussed key aspects on youth policies, the need for data allowing evidence-based policy making, and the future needs of young generations. The debate was moderated by Deirdre Casella (The Generations & Gender Programme). Highlights are presented below.

Robert Anderson (Eurofound): High-quality microdata plays a crucial role in tracking the cross-national trends shaping our societies. We need more comparable data for all 28 EU countries. Researchers have a role to play in evaluating social policies and providing clear evidence for their conclusions and recommendations, especially when issues are on the top of the policy agenda. Sound training of serious science journalists is key to building bridges between research, policy, civil society and providers of data resources.

Laura Castiglioni (Deutsches Jugendinstitut): Evidence-based policy making requires large-scale longitudinal data sets that provide answers that account for the diversity in today’s families and life-trajectories. Linear trajectories are now the exception and we must strive to understand the underlying reasons for these changes in order to have more relevant and suitable policy mechanisms that take the pressure off of families.

Philippe Seidel Leroy (AGE Platform Europe): Caring for older family members should be an individual choice for Europeans and not an obligation. Reliable longitudinal data, that is disaggregated also for the ages 75+ is required for insights into the consequences of policy choices. This is an imperative and calls for greater recognition of the importance of social science data for policy making within the EU and European Parliament.

Pearl Dykstra (Erasmus University Rotterdam): There is an increased recognition of the relevance of scientific evidence for policymaking. If we take the ‘family as the locus of society’ where changes in our needs, values and experiences are taking place, then we need to know what is driving the changing dynamics within families. This requires going beyond the silos of age groups and focus on all families at pan-EU level. Data produced by the Generations & Gender Programme is well suited to conduct this type of inquiry.

Miguel de la Corte Rodriguez (European Commission): Evidence-based policies aiming at strengthen bonds between fathers and their children are of key importance in the context of the European Pillars of Social Rights. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of harmonized data sources on this issue across the EU countries.

Annemie Drieskens (COFACE-Families Europe): It is fundamental that we have a less divided Europe in terms of social rights, in particular regarding well-paid parental leave schemes. It is also urgent to better support families to cope with intergenerational challenges inside families. The Work-Life Balance Directive will play an important role in these issues, and help advancing reconciliation of care and labour market responsibilities.

This article originally appeared on the Population Europe website and is re-posted with many thanks.


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