Participants from science, politics and civil society discussed factors for building societal “resilience” in Europe at the first FutuRes Policy Lab meeting. Their core takeaways:
- It is critical for research and policy to consider not only individual, but institutional resilience. This includes sustaining resilience outside Europe’s borders.
- Framing healthcare and labour policies around individual well-being has the potential to increase resilience of societies.
- Because populations are diverse, factors of resilience are not the same for everyone – policies that build resilience must be inclusive.
Given low fertility and increased longevity, as well as enduring and inevitable future crises, whether related to public health, climate change or economic inflation, Europe needs to build individual and societal resilience. Policy agendas must therefore integrate research on how the diverse compositions of societies (by age, family arrangement, education, health and other demographic characteristics) impact economic security, well-being, social support and health care systems, and the labour force.
The recently launched Horizon Europe-funded Project, Towards a Resilient Future of Europe (“FutuRes”), is responding to this need. The project is taking a close look at the meaning and implications of “resilience” for ageing populations in Europe. Its demographic research design tackles the question of how resilience is impacted by decisions made throughout one’s life-course and what policies can do to respond to this.
A key element of the FutuRes project is its “Policy Lab”, which will facilitate the exchange of expertise between people in research and policy. Through the Policy Lab, the FutuRes team will enrich its research with the experience of stakeholders from politics, business, media, and civil society.
On 27 June 2023, the first event of the FutuRes Policy Lab took place online in the form of a High-Level Expert Workshop followed by a Public Panel Discussion. Each were attended by over 100 participants from different organizations and sectors. The event served to support FutuRes’ “agenda-setting”, as the project’s research program gets started.
High-level expert workshop
The workshop started with seven eminent experts from selected policy sectors giving insights on their work related to resilience and aging societies. This was followed by focused discussions with all of the workshop participants in four break-out rooms. These were hosted by lead FutuRes researchers and focused on the sub-themes of the project: migration, fertility/childbearing, aging, and addressing resilience from the “life course approach”.
Damian Boeselager (Member of European Parliament)
Deša Srsen (Cabinet of the European Commission’s Vice-President)
Anna Kwiatkiewicz (Senior Advisor, Business Europe)
Philip Haywood (Policy Analyst and Senior Health Economist, OECD)
Marina Manke (Chief of the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, International Organization for Migration)
Holly Shorey (Policy and Advocacy Officer, COFACE Families Europe)
Arnstein Aassve (Principle Investigator, FutuRes Project)
Policy challenges and solutions
- Even if it is easy to support “resilience-building” in theory, it is difficult to get political commitment because resilience implies long-term planning and resource allocation. Politicians must design mechanisms whereby long-term challenges feature on the political agenda.
- The key challenge lies in the uncertainty of what types of crises we will encounter in the future, and for which we will need resilience. Still, there is a growing recognition in population research of the digital and green transitions that the concept of resilience must feature prominently.
- Our societies are ageing not only in uncertain times, but also in very different economic, environmental, demographic and social situations compared across time and geography.
- There are already acute labour shortages in different sectors in Europe. To encourage people to stay active in the work force for longer, we need to encourage more flexibility and intergenerational teams in work environments – both of these are important components for resilience in ageing societies.
- When we think about resilience, we need to think not just about Europe alone. For example, making European health systems “resilient” by recruiting medical professionals from other regions may result in adverse effects on the resilience of the places where those doctors are coming from – we need to take a global approach.
- At the same time, migration is not a long-term solution to structural labour market challenges posed by population ageing – resilient social security policies cannot simply rely on an ever-increasing number of immigrants to fill the skills and labour shortages.
- Resilient policy design must consider that migration can result in difficult-to-predict demographic changes in the short-term, in part because it interacts with many other processes, such as technological developments, job automation, and others.
- The key to resilient health care systems is to start from an “individual/patient well-being perspective” instead of an economic/system perspective. This means we need policies, resources and institutional structures with the goal of increasing people’s well-being first. Preventive health care should be a priority for policies designed to enhance resilience.
- The recruitment of migrants from around the world to fill labour shortages will remain on the economic agenda in the foreseeable future. There must be inclusive policies that contribute to migrants’ well-being and that give them the chance to feel at home and supported, for example, by having feasible opportunities to migrate with their families.
- New frameworks, such as considering individual well-being and resilience in policy making, requires data and relevant information to reliability assess and to evaluate how things are working.
Building on the concept of “resilience”
- There are core foundations of resilience beyond individual psychological aspects. Resilience relates to the ability of people to exercise their rights and agency, as well as the capability of individuals and institutions to swiftly adjust to new realities.
- There are different levels of resilience and they are interdependent: individual choices, communities/families’ resourcefulness and political/policy frameworks and decisions (i.e. a micro, meso and macro levels).
- Families are an important and undervalued unit for resilience building. We need policies that complement the ability of families to combine both their risks and resources. Housing is also an important and related issue to resilience of individuals and families and this needs more attention.
Hosts of break-out rooms
Life-course approach: Arnstein Aassve (Professor in Demography, Bocconi University and Principle Investigator of the FutuRes Project)
Fertility/childbearing: Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak (Director of the Institute of Statistics and Demography at WSE, Warsaw)
Ageing: Alexia Fürnkranz-Prskawetz (Professor of Mathematical Economics, TU Vienna)
Migration: Jakub Bijak (Professor of Statistical Demography, University of Southampton)
Public Panel Discussion
As the baby boomer generation retires, European pension systems are facing a crisis. Countries such as Germany and France have responded by raising the age of retirement. This expectation to work until an older age has been met with frustration by many. The premise of this panel was, is “how long should we work?” the right question? What if the question was “how can we work better, now?” In this online panel, five experts reflected on strategies for the future of work.
Beatrice Covassi (Member of the European Parliament)
Jutta Allmendinger (President of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center)
Massimiliano Mascherini (Head of the Social Policy Department at Eurofound)
Ulrich Becker (Director of the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy)
Arnstein Aassve (Professor in Demography at Bocconi University and Principle Investigator of the FutuRes Project)
"Let’s think beyond retirement age!"
- There are ways to “fix” the pension dilemma besides raising the age of retirement, especially as few people are happily convinced by the economic argument to simply work for longer. Research shows that people’s decisions to stay in the labour force depend on factors such as their health, care responsibilities, work conditions and social networks.
- Increasing flexibility (such as the number of hours worked and optional periods of leave) are relatively “easy” policy fixes that could encourage more people to stay in the labour force longer.
- If we explore how to re-organize work lives to be compatible with well-being, this will in turn increase the resilience of individuals and societies. In other words, the quality of work (including support systems) should improve regardless of having to work longer.
- Re-training at any age must become a feasible possibility socially and economically, and thus receive more commitment and investment from governments. This means that people should have the option (and even incentives) to leave their jobs and to start education for new professions throughout their lives. Older people who lose or can’t continue their jobs need particular support to re-enter the job market, as it tends to exclude older people. For example, research shows that increasing flexibility and care for women going through menopause, could help keep more women in the work force longer.
- More attention could also be paid to coordinating policies and strategies. For example, matching labour skills gaps with education and migration policies. To illustrate: if there is a need to hire care professionals from other countries, then there needs to be sufficient housing available, and therefore, having sufficient skills and labour in the construction sector must also be considered.
- When it comes to retirement, people’s options should be transparent, predictable and flexible – i.e. in Norway one can use an online platform to see their projected pension based on their salary and their preferred number of years of working. This gives people agency to make decisions for their future.
- In general, countries should move away fixed ages of retirement - just as there is no fixed age to enter the job market, there shouldn’t be a fixed age to leave!
"In looking at new models of work, we can’t leave people behind"
- Research demonstrates how inequalities continue into retirement age and the end of life (i.e., people with lower education, have lower pensions and shorter average life spans). For example, it should be expected that people who work in manual labour jobs may not want to stay in their positions as long as people in the “knowledge economy”. Yet, people who work in manual labour jobs typically often make lower salaries, and if they also leave their jobs earlier, they will receive lower pensions, and thus inequalities later in life are increased and perpetuate. This also applies for women, who still take on the majority of unpaid labour.
- To counter persistent societal inequalities, there needs to be more recognition and compensation for unpaid and different types of labour, with one strategy being through offering more flexible and fair retirement arrangements. Other options could be through financial redistribution through pension systems and adjusting retirement options to different types of labour.
- EuroFound estimates suggest that 38% of current jobs in Europe could become “tele-working” positions, but these jobs predominately require high education levels and are higher paying. There are also geographic disparities in terms of where these jobs exist, so it is important not to forget when designing the “future of work” that the majority of people (and jobs) remain attached to certain places.
- Relatedly, there is a continued need to assess how technology will impact jobs, thus bringing together the “green and digital transitions”. Planning and mitigating the “digital divide” and those who are at risk of (or already have been) left behind by increasing digitalization is also critical.
- Policy must consider the impacts of the divergence between the wages of young people (those just starting jobs) and older (more senior) workers. If the starting salary for a job is radically lower than those who are more senior, then this could impact intergenerational solidarity, emigration aspirations, and more generally, the resilience of the labour market.
- There is a prejudice that older workers are “crowding out” younger people in the job market, but data show that in countries with more young people in the job market, there are also more older people working (meaning there is more labour market participation overall).
You can read the press release here. For further events, visit "Futures - Towards a Resilient Future of Europe" or follow on Linkedin or Twitter.