Europeans currently make up 13% of the world's
population. Fifty years from now they will represent no more than
7%. Their total numbers will remain stable, but their average age
will increase from 36 in 1995 to 45 in 2025. This considerable change
will result from two trends: a major increase in the over-65s -
and particularly in the over-80s - and a reduction of at least 10%
in the 15-29 age group.
This dramatic change will require action by Europe's decision-makers,
who are already drawing attention to its significance. One of the
most frequently discussed questions is how a small number of working
people are going to be able to finance pension funds in ageing societies
with increased social costs on the one hand, and possibly reduced
economic resources on the other - due to the very fact of this inversion
of the age pyramid.
Another key dimension of this shift is linked
to the advent of the 'knowledge-based society', the inevitable consequence
of scientific and technological progress. How are education and
training policies - with the mission of making maximum use of available
skills and abilities - going to adapt to this new demographic structure?
There are two theses. One in particular, which was elaborated upon
at the European Council of Research and Education Ministers in March,
favours supporting policies aimed at helping young people.
Essentially this involves making up for their
relative scarcity in numbers by increasing their added value. The
other, developed under the Futures macro-project conducted by the
IPTS (Institute for Prospective Technological Studies in Seville),
stresses the importance of drawing on the potential of older sections
of the population by giving priority to 'lifelong education'.
In exploring these two possible ways forward -
seen as complementary rather than in competition - a vital debate
for Europe's future is unfolding.