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Lebenswelten 4.0?

The importance of social environments in urban and rural regions in light of demographic change

In the current discussion about the competitiveness of urban communities and rural regions, the availability of affordable housing, the capacity of public transportation and transportation infrastructure, the establishment of a digital infrastructure, opportunities in the labour market, sufficient local services and access to social services are especially points of interest.

However, the importance of immediate social environment (including family members, local social actors and local clubs) as a factor in one's location is underestimated, although it still plays an important role in the provision of public services for the population. For example, families are still the ones mainly responsible for organizing care or other services.

In an ageing society, it is precisely vulnerable population groups that are often particularly dependent on these local structures, especially the chronically ill, single or widowed, as well as elderly people living in precarious conditions.

On the one hand, the functioning of these structures can influence the necessity for governmental and social investment. For example, when people can be cared for or looked after at home by their relatives or acquaintance, then fewer institutional services need to be provided.

On the other hand, an intact environment also leads to less pronounced mobility behaviour of the population, even if, for example, professional development opportunities, health care or rent in another city or region would favor a move. This observation applies in particular to rural areas and small to medium-sized cities, while in large cities and metropolitan regions, due to the growing population diversity, a completely different supply infrastructure may be needed.

The particular insight gained from this project allowed for comparison of the possible needs of three different age groups, or rather life stages, and possible synergies based on the following questions:

  • To what extent can families and one’s social environment continue to provide basic services in the future?
  • Under what circumstances are people prepared to accept possible disadvantages of rural areas in terms of basic provisions, provided that their social environment can guarantee this?
  • What are the most important incentives for young people to stay and return?
  • Do the needs of young families with children or families with relatives in need of care change depending on whether co-caring parents, siblings or children live in the area?
  • How can we enable older people in rural or urban areas to live self-determined lives and participate in social life?

In this context, it was important to initiate a discussion on how these location factors could possibly change in the near future in view of an increasingly ageing society. After all, population diversity will increase, especially in urban centres, while simultaneously more and more commuters will move to areas close to the city (suburbs). Today's plans may be out of date in twenty years' time, as can be seen in many districts that once had many children, but are now rapidly aging.

What tools do we need to better determine future needs and thereby contribute to a targeted distribution of resources and synergies for the three age groups?

The project started with a discussion of  these and related questions and possible answers in two consecutive events and presented the results to the public in the form of evidence-based policy recommendations.

This project was in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.

Expert Workshop, 24 September 2019, WissenschaftsForum Berlin

A group of selected experts from the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, from the project "Demografiewerkstatt Kommunen" and from the research community came together to discuss and exchange ideas about what they believe are the important issues facing rural and urban communities. The objective of this workshop was to set the agenda for the larger event to be held in January. More information about the discussion and findings from this event can be found here (in German).

Discussion Forum, 20 January 2020, WissenschaftsForum Berlin

This event invited experts from national, state and local governments, the research community, the economy and civil society to participate in three working groups to discuss the situation of the young and old generations, as well as young families in rural and urban regions. Each working group began with a presentation from a leading researcher who provided a short impulse to start the discussion:

  • Prof. Dr Sabine Andresen, Professor for Family Research and Social Pedagogy, Goethe University Frankfurt
  • Dr Laura Castiglioni, Head of the Section “Family Policy and Family Support” at the German Youth Institute (DJI)
  • Dr Sebastian Klüsener, Research Director of the Research Group “Demographic Change and Ageing“ at the German Federal Institute for Population Research

To end the day, a panel debate was held to present the results from the working groups and to continue the discussion with policy makers. This included:

  • Dr Manja Schüle, Brandenburg State Minister for Science, Research and Culture
  • Carla Kniestedt, Member of the Landtag in Brandenburg and former Moderator at Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg
  • Elisabeth Niejahr, Director of the Hertie Foundation, former Head of Reporting at Wirtschaftwoche
  • Martin Patzelt, Member of German Bundestag, former Mayor of Frankfurt (Oder)
  • Prof. Dr Norbert Schneider, Director of the German Federal Institute for Population Research

A summary of this panel debate can be found here.

The results of the day’s discussion and panel debate were summarised in our Policy Brief "Demographic Change: Are Equal Living Conditions Falling to the Wayside?". It is also available in German.

This project ended in April 2020.

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