The campuses have closed their doors. Many of France’s 3 million students have lost their jobs. As for young people who are already in the labor market, unemployment hits them hard. The effort required of French youth in the health emergency, in particular to protect the elderly, has awakened the idea of a “war of generations”.
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The share of 15-29 year olds in the population thus increased from 24% in 1975 to 17% in 2019. At the same time, their situation deteriorated while that of seniors improved. Thus, in 2019, the poverty rate among 15-29 year olds is 20%, against 14% for the population and 10% for retirees.
A pension system running out of steam?
More generally, faced with the challenges of aging, hasn’t France made the choice to sacrifice the new generations? For Bernard Spitz (1), the original error dates back to the choice of lowering the retirement age to 60 years, in 1981, when life expectancy was on the rise.
Since then, the course correction has required a lot of political energy. And no government has managed to control public accounts weighed down by social benefits, half of which is absorbed by pensions (14% of GDP). For this ex-adviser to Michel Rocard, the creation of the generalized social contribution (CSG) was only a stopgap to save a pay-as-you-go system which, in terms of demography, would be at the end of the line.
The importance of the intergenerational bond
The political weight of seniors gives credence to the idea that major trade-offs are systematically made in their favor. They are indeed the ones who vote the most and, locally, are in charge. But should we be fatalistic? Specialist in family policies, Julien Damon does not think so.
“Our social system is based on intergenerational solidarity. It works more or less well but, like all neighboring countries, we are first confronted with a change in demographic regime, with an aging Europe which is experiencing little growth. ” The room for maneuver is therefore narrow, but not zero.
The birth rate, two children per woman, which places France at the head of European countries also testifies to the priority given in this country to family policies, which allow young adults to reconcile professional life and parenthood.
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“The war of generations is an abstract idea, we do not see it in the concrete of existences”, underlines for his part the economist François-Xavier Albouy, associated with Club Landoy – of which the Bayard group, publisher of La Croix, is at the initiative -, which brings together experts in demographic transition and companies to reflect on a generational social pact . A recent survey conducted by Ifop for Club Landoy clearly shows the importance of the link between generations, which continues even in times of Covid.
Invest in education and training
Another indicator to take into account: that of investment in education. OECD analyst, Eric Charbonnier underlines that France is, with a rate of 5% of GDP devoted to education, slightly above the average for developed countries. With structural pitfalls, however.
Éric Charbonnier broadly sums up the diagnosis made for years but that governments only manage to correct at the margin: spending too low for early childhood: – 8% compared to the OECD average for elementary education, + 35% at high school level. A teaching centered on the transmission of academic knowledge which leaves little room for pedagogy. And which continues to disregard the professional path, which remains culturally denigrated.
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This issue of training should, in the opinion of many, be one of the main priorities of public policies. The other, further underline the experts, would be to rethink the social and economic contribution of retirement, a period when the French spend between twenty-five and thirty years of their lives.
Keep in the activity the oldest
François-Xavier Albouy stresses for his part that maintaining the activity is decisive in delaying the loss of autonomy of the elderly. “The question is: ‘What am I going to do with this life that is opening up to me?’ If the French are not prepared for this reflection, it will give rise to a lot of disenchantment. It is also easier for the upper categories to think about it, the large companies having prepared them for retirement, but the middle classes are censoring themselves on the question. We must therefore anticipate, support the commitment of seniors in community life, in small local businesses, develop tools such as the validation of acquired experience (VAE), short training courses ”, he warns.
The health crisis could offer the opportunity to redefine these strategic choices to avoid the prospect of dropout between generations. In the short term, the 100 billion euro stimulus plan presented by the government in September provides for an employment support program “1 young person, 1 solution” with 6.5 billion.
While after the financial crisis, it took ten years to straighten out the social accounts, the deficits are now twice as high as they were in 2008, underlines Julien Damon. The situation will require other choices of solidarity. “Faced with the health emergency, we asked young people to make a big effort. Now we will have to help them “, concludes the specialist.
The key numbers
28 It is the number of people aged 65 and over per 100 people of working age, on average in the OECD countries – the richest countries – in 2015. This “demographic dependency ratio of people aged ”, which stood at 14 in 1950, is expected to almost double to 58 in 2075.
Over 65s form 28% of the population in Japan, according to data from the World Bank in 2019. They are 23% in Italy, 22% in Finland, as in Germany. In France, the figure is 20% of the population.
Under 15s represent 47% of the population in Uganda, Mali, Angola, and Chad. More broadly, in many African countries, more than four in 10 inhabitants are between 0 and 14 years old. France is far from it, with only 18% of the population under the age of 15.