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Not ready to say die, old folks flex demographic muscle

The sweet old granny knitting all day and a white-haired old grandpa telling tales next to the fireplace are images well known to younger folk… from primary school books. But the younger generation of old folk, born during the occupation or immediately afterward, are a restless generation which has wrought radical changes on the social, economic and political scene. It is practically a foregone conclusion that they will transform the traditional image of the elderly. Pension levels are the only factor that could check the extent of this transformation; the model they inherited from their parents is dead in the water. The numbers are the first, and most obvious, indication of the change. The western world has come face to face with a huge social transformation, since the number of older people is increasing and in many cases is greater than the number of children. In Greece, the elderly as a percentage of the total population has doubled in the past 50 years. According to National Statistics Service (NSS) data: in 1951, old people accounted for 7 percent of the population, in 1961, they were 8 percent of the total; in 1971, 11.1 percent and in 1981, 13.2 percent. In 1998, Greek senior citizens accounted for 16.5 percent of the population. In the mid-1990s, the percentage of the population made up of elderly people overtook that of children. In the future, Eurostat estimates that by 2005, there will be 113 elderly people to 100 children in Greece. «Today, the percentage of elderly people hovers at around 18 percent of the total population. When that figure reaches 25 percent, in 2012 or thereabouts according to calculations, the State will be forced to concentrate on them more, paying the same attention that it now pays to children,» sociologist and director of research at the National Center for Social Research (EKKE), Aphrodite Teperoglou, explained. This numerical increase in the average lifespan has forced scientists to divide the group that we knew up to now as the old into two. «In the last few years, scientists have begun to use a new category for people above 85. By definition, this group finds itself in a different, much worse position than the rest of the elderly, due to the health problems attendant on that age,» Teperoglou said. «It’s not only the percentage of elderly people that is increasing. Over-60s to 65s form a category with distinct characteristics. «For the first time, we have the first urban grandfathers and grandmothers who are still active. Grandmothers who are asked to help out with their children’s children are often unable to because they are still working. However, with the increase in the average age at which a couple get married, the average age at which they have their first child also rises. Moreover, the first child is often born near the age when their grandparents are pensioned off.» Two pensioner categories At the same time, the change is evident on the economic level. «The generation of uninsured senior citizens is disappearing. The coming generation has their pensions all arranged. A good pension determines the elderly person’s prestige and frees them on a personal and family level,» Teperoglou said. «Gradually, two categories of pensioners are beginning to emerge in Greece: the high pension earners, usually men of a high educational level, and state pensioners and low pension earners, who have lower income and probably an unemployed child in the house. This is the age group that is struck hardest by poverty. «It’s worth noting that one reason for withdrawing from an active professional life used to be state of health. Today, it’s pension levels. And it’s necessary to remember that the high percentage of home ownership, plus family support for the elderly person, continue to be crucial.»