The European population is aging. By 2040, 155 million people are expected to be over the age of 65 . This demographic change is often referred to as a challenge, but we believe that this description ignores the considerable benefits that society can gain from an experienced, active and engaged third generation. Above all, this group can play a pivotal role in building greater intergenerational cohesion. This was affirmed in the results of our Unifying Generations Survey, recently launched in Brussels, which measured the contribution of the senior population in society and explored the experience of intergenerational interactions among 12,850 European citizens.
The value of the third generation
From this survey, conducted across six European countries (France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the U.K.), we learned that the third generation play a key role in society: 25 percent provide support to family members, for example shopping or driving); 24 percent provide care to a family member such as a child, grandchildren or other relatives; and 19 percent volunteer in sports clubs or associations.
Not only do they provide social support, but 71 percent provide financial support to the younger generations within their family. The financial support they provide goes towards holidays and leisure (32 percent ), education (30 percent ), and household goods (26 percent ).
Moreover, the younger generation value the contribution that senior people make in their lives, and they appreciate their friendship and support. Eighty-three percent of younger generation respondents say the support provided by the older generation in their daily life is very important or somewhat important.
A strong desire for more intergenerational interactions
Interestingly, results showed that intergenerational interactions were viewed as positive with respondents 11 times more likely to think closer interactions between different generations are a good thing (77 percent) versus a bad thing (7 percent).
The survey also demonstrates that the younger generation has a clear desire to learn from the third generation via mentoring and knowledge sharing. While older people seem to underestimate the value they can bring through mentoring, with only 12 percent believing that it would be valuable to younger, 23 percent of younger respondents believe that mentoring or educational schemes provided by national or local government would help them to do more with older generations. This was followed by business advice or mentoring schemes offered by businesses (14 percent).
Across the countries, the survey shows that learning new technology and digital media skills is the key thing older respondents would most want to learn from younger people, with 40 percent of the older generation stating they would most like to learn new technology and digital media skills from younger people.
The impact of COVID-19
Over the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented families and friends from spending time together. This undoubtedly had an impact on unity between generations. In fact, the survey demonstrated that the pandemic was the main barrier preventing interactions between generations. Across all countries surveyed, generations were found to have spent less time together since the pandemic — 40 percent of respondents say the amount of time they spend with people of a different generation to them has decreased since the pandemic. The impact was felt even more heavily by the younger generation; 49 percent of younger respondents believed that younger and older people are further apart since the COVID-19 pandemic, in contrast to 40 percent of older respondents.
The prospect of recovering from the pandemic and rebuilding relations may feel like a difficult task, but the enthusiasm for improving intergenerational solidarity that emanated through the survey results suggests that now is the right time for action.
Building the pathway to intergenerational solidarity
The Unifying Generations Survey results are in stark contrast to the prevailing narrative of intergenerational conflict and an older generation posing a challenge to society. Instead, the survey gives a clear picture of the pivotal social and economic contribution brought by the senior population, a contribution that is greatly valued by the younger generation. Far from there being conflict between generations, there is compelling evidence of intergenerational cohesion and a wish for greater interactions in the future.
The results of the survey can be found in the newly launched Unifying Generations report. This is the first step of what we call our Unifying Generations Initiative. It creates the foundation for future actions to enhance intergenerational solidarity, underlines the mutual respect and value of younger and older generations, and demonstrates the start of a path towards an age-friendly society.
The report makes three recommendations:
- Transform perceptions — there is a need to build multistakeholder campaigns to communicate a more realistic narrative of the positive, unifying role of senior people and the overwhelming desire for greater intergenerational solidarity.
- Mentoring and knowledge sharing — business, academics, senior organizations and policymakers should work together to create more opportunities for older people to mentor and pass on their knowledge, experience and skills to younger people through educational initiatives.
- Digital interaction — the wish for learning is not one-way. The older generation recognizes that younger people can support them in becoming better-connected digitally. The introduction of schemes allowing senior people to build their digital skills and connectivity will reduce their isolation and ensure even greater intergenerational cohesion.
This is a long-term commitment for Edwards Lifesciences, and one which we know we cannot achieve alone. We welcome any stakeholder in joining our efforts and partnering with us on this exciting journey.
Learn more about the Unifying Generations initiative and download the report: https://www.edwards.com/ch-en/aboutus/unifying-generations/
 Eurostat (2017) People in the EU — population projections, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?- title=People_in_the_EU_-_population_projections