Does the Ageing Society even exist?

Most scholars agree the population is rapidly ageing, but some claim the ageing process is slower than assumed. Reason for the controversy: different measuring methods.

“You know, I am not sure there is such thing as an Ageing Society.” That was what someone told me after hearing I was studying the international news coverage of the Ageing Society, now some years ago. It surprised me, to say the least. We all know that most western populations get older. And we have foreseen this for decennia, as it was calculated in all detail in demographic projections. So why would somebody question the population ageing or the Ageing Society?

To immediately take it away: Yes, most western societies are ageing, and no, that is not contested among scientists. However, over the last years, academic debates did emerge over the most accurate criteria to measure the population ageing and Ageing Society. Depending on the measuring criteria used, the results may vary. For instance, if the cutoff age to be considered an older person is not the classic ’65 years’, but instead ’80 years’, than clearly the society will have less ‘older persons’. Other –and more sophisticated- argumentations have led some scholars to state that the process of population ageing takes place at a slower pace than is commonly assumed.

While acknowledging the interest of such alternative measuring methods, the Swiss Ageing Society project uses the calculations from the United Nations and the European Union (based on the classic chronological age), as these are today worldwide the most established demographic projections.