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40. Re-thinking ageing populations


All of us, from grandparents to newborn babies will be affected by living in an ageing population. Research is helping us to understand these impacts, and to influence them for the better.

Ageing populations now exert a major influence on all aspects of social and economic life. Concerns about the best way of  providing for such populations, their impact on standards of living, and relations between age groups and generations, feature prominently in public debate and discussion. The twenty-first century will without question be a time when all societies take stock of the long-term impact of demographic change and the implications for managing and organising a major area of social and economic activity.

Chris Phillipson, Professor of Sociology and Social Gerontology, and author of the 2013 book  Ageing (Polity Press) directs the Manchester Insitute for Collaborative Research on Ageing (MICRA). He argues that responding to the reality of (for the Global North at least) living in one’s 80s, 90s and beyond becomes a routine experience, means taking into account at least three things:

  1. the variability (and inequalities) among ageing populations will be enormous – we need a language to express these differences, hence the need for creativity and invention;
  2. ‘mainstream’ institutions need to be dragged into the public discussion about ageing – universities, to take one example, could play a key role in helping society adapt to demographic change, whether through encouraging new types of adult learning or exploring ways of encouraging creativity throughout the life course;
  3. ageing societies will involve identifying new forms of solidarity, entailing a move from families and generations to friendship and community-based ties.

Paul Simpson is involved in the Older people’s Understandings of Sexuality research initiative, established in Sociology at Manchester and is researching older people and sexuality and intimacy: a much neglected topic. Working with colleagues in Psychology and Nursing Studies and representatives from the NHS, Manchester City Council and an LGBT voluntary sector organizations, the project aims to challenge stereotypes of older people as post-sexual or unworthy of being involved in sexual/intimate relations and to contribute to understandings of older people as sexual and intimate citizens


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