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OPINION

Eye on France: Make way for the super seniors!

Are humanity's millions of old people to be regarded as a blessing or a threat?
Are humanity's millions of old people to be regarded as a blessing or a threat? Vallée/RFI

According to an article in today’s financial paper Les Echos, France is going to be a nation of very old people, the so-called "super seniors," by the year 2070. Is that good news, or bad news? Or something else entirely?

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The ageing process has, of course, already started, with the first dramatic effects likely to make themselves felt over the next decade.

The figures will then go off the dial between 2050 and 2070, leading to a huge dependent population, and an explosion in the already complicated business of passing on wealth to succeeding generations.

We’re talking a global phenomenon.

The United Nations’ population office reckons there are currently 320,000 human beings over the age of 100. By 2050, that will have been multiplied by ten, meaning 3.2 million centurians.

Humanity has never seen the like.

Les Echos is quick to point out that these are just statistical projections.

A world war, an as-yet unseen strain of swine flu or a collision with an asteroid would put a dramatic end to the careers of people in all age groups. To say nothing of the menacing impact of climatic change and diminishing resources.

But, assuming we survive all that . . .

The French National Demographic Institute says there’ll be 141,000 hundred-year-olds in France by 2050, with well over a quarter of a million two decades later.

To put that in perspective, on January 1 last, there were fewer than 16,000 of them.

Obviously, this is going to have huge social repercussions.

There’ll be 14 million French people over the age of 75 by 2070. These are the post-war baby-boomers who started retiring at the age of 60 from 2006 onwards, and who are now going to cause a third tidal wave as they cease to be able to take care of themselves.

Who will pay for the super seniors?

Les Echos says looking after old people is going to be one of the big social challenges of this XXIst century.

The experts make the future sound really great for those of us who are on the verge of a return to nappies and spoon-feeding.

According to Vincent Touzé, specialist at the French Economic Observatory, problems of mobility and mental function are more frequent and pose greater difficulties after the age of 75, especially since they often arrive hand-in-hand. In other words, by the time your legs are so bad that you can’t make it to the bathroom unaided, you’ll have forgotten where it is and why you go there in the first place.

In the 20 years between 2030 and 2050, the number of old French people who need help will have grown to two-and-a-quarter million. Imagine the current population of Paris with memory problems, unable to climb stairs, needing to be fed and washed.

And hundreds of thousands of those dependent individuals are going to have insufficient pensions and/or savings to allow them the dubious luxury of personal care.

A question of heritage

The generalisation of the four-generation family (composed of very old grandparents, retired parents, working children and their school-going kids) is going to have a huge impact on inheritance for those who have anything to pass on.

With the grandparents hanging on longer by the skin of their false teeth, their kids will be retired before they can inherit the family home, and their children can forget the golden era when grand-pa popped his clogs and left you a small fortune just as you were struggling to buy your first apartment. Or start your first business.

To limit the negative effects of this tendency, the head-counters have suggested to the government that there should be a huge inheritance tax when the left-overs are passed from one generation to the one directly behind, but a zero-rate for skipping the intermediate gang. So, not only are your kids going to eat you out of house and home while they live with you, they are going to be preferential candidates when it comes to carving up the family fortune.

Personally, I anticipate trouble. There will be wheelchairs and zimmer frames at the barricades. Provided we can find our zimmer frames!

The other danger is, of course, that the family heritage will be swallowed up paying for care for the aged, so there’ll be nothing left to argue over anyway.

Happy days!

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