Europe's Best Untapped Economic and Social Resource

Europe's Best Untapped Economic and Social Resource

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Two events in Europe this week are offering some much-needed respite from the growing this-is-why-the-eurozone-is-failing narrative. While Madrid and Athens are scaring away tourists with demonstrations, the picturesque cities of Cannes and Prague have been hosting events that remind us of Europe’s magnetism. What’s more, the Czech capitol and the gem of the French Riviera are reminding the world of the untapped and immense potential of aging populations

Both the International Federation on Ageing’s conference “Aging Connects” in Prague and the chic, soigné Cannes Film Festival are showing how aging is a source for innovation and art, which can both be drivers of growth in our 21st century. 

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At the International Federation on Ageing (IFA), leaders from business, government, NGOs and the Academy have gathered to find new, innovative pathways to keep seniors connected, healthy, active and productive. We understand just how significant connectivity is to healthy aging, and the IFA will build on today’s momentum. There was also the announcement of a new website – Age-Friendly World – that will become the communications glue among the dynamic World Health Organization’s Age Friendly Cities Network. The new communications tool is a result of this year’s WHO dedication to active and healthy population aging. 

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The gathering in Prague has also brought new attention to the needs of the fastest growing segment of the globe’s population – adults over 50. One interesting workshop called upon the global public health community to create adult immunization programs that would be on a par with the immunization programs for children as of the latter part of the 20th century. Delegates from around the world agreed that effective disease prevention and wellness strategies in our era must deploy adult vaccines, and through their widespread awareness then also ensure incentives for further innovation.

And at the Cannes Film Festival, the top prize went to Austrian director Michael Haneke’s Amour, which stars two French 80-somethings in the lead roles. Haneke’s film is a persuasive counter-argument to the legendary French actor Maurice Chevalier’s immortal quote: “Old age is not that bad when you consider the alternative.”

Amour illustrates the rich, complex and capable lives of older adults, and it’s a sharp retort to the clichéd castings usually reserved for older characters in Hollywood movies. The leads in Amour take viewers through a wide and subtle compound of emotions.; few viewers can walk away from the film and dismiss the multifaceted nature of aging today.

The European Union has also dedicated this year of 2012 to what’s called Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations. Gestures like this can be nothing but cynical rhetoric, unless of course there’s legitimate follow-through. Did the Cannes Film Festival and the IFA respond to the EU’s dedication? Who knows. But the symmetry is fortuitous and we’d be remiss to ignore it. As Europe struggles to figure out its finances, events in Prague and Cannes are showing that aging may be Europe’s best untapped social and economic resource. And as the globe’s population will in the next three decades exceed 2 billion people over 60 – more of them than those under 14 – the rest of the world is definitely watching.

Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is Adjunct Senior Fellow at The Council of Foreign Relations and Executive Director of The Global Coalition on Aging

Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.