Britain has an ageing population. Between 1983 and 2008, the number of people in the UK aged 65 and over has increased by 1.5 million. The most rapidly growing section of the older population is those over 85, which has more than doubled since 1983 and is estimated to increase by two thirds over the next twenty years.
Yet public debate about our ageing society among policymakers and in the media tends to assume that ageing is a stable concept. There is in fact little consensus about when ageing or old age start; how the experience of ageing may differ for different generations; what rights and responsibilities come with retirement; and whether ageing is a policy issue in itself, or should be dealt with in terms of health, employment, social inclusion and financial security, which are issues that affect all age groups.
This project will seek to explore how representations of ageing circulate in culture and society. In particular, it will draw on older people’s perspectives to critique some of the narratives about ageing that are employed in public policy.
Key research questions will include:
• When does ‘ageing’ start and what does it mean to be an ‘older person’? Can we objectively identify separate phases in the ageing process?
• How do people’s experiences of ageing vary (particularly between different generations)?
• How do narratives about ageing depicted in public policy correspond to or deviate from older people’s own lived experience?
• Is public policy correctly identifying the issues that affect older people and are policymakers getting the emphasis right?
• How are older people consulted in the process of policy formation?
Demos is working in partnership with Brunel University on this project, to use innovative research methods to collect in-depth qualitative data on people’s experiences of ageing in contemporary society.
These include comparisons of Mass Observation (MO) longitudinal data on ageing, as well as discussions on experiences of ageing and the depiction of ageing in fiction and policy from six London-based University of the Third Age (U3A) reading groups. These personal narratives about the ageing process (as captured in both MO and U3A responses) will inform its critique of how public policy both represents and responds to the challenges posed by our ageing society.
Coming of Age is funded by the Economic & Social Research Council and the final report will be available from April 2011.
This pamphlet grounds public policy in people’s real, lived experiences of ageing.