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At this stage, most Canadians aren’t prepared to accept realistic measures to rein in the increasing costs of an aging society. One measure would be to raise the age of retirement. With most Canadians healthy into their 80s, pensioning someone off at 65 is like giving them a paid vacation.
But when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives raised the age for receiving Old Age Security from 65 to 67, the howls prompted Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to drop the age back to 65. In any case, whether through financial need, poor planing or both, many Canadians start taking Canada Pension Plan benefits when they turn 60, even though the long-term benefit is lower than it would be if they waited till 65 or, even better, 70.
Another approach might be to forcibly unlock the wealth accumulated by older Canadians. In the United States, according to a report in Forbes magazine, the silent generation (people over 75) held about 1.3 times the amount of wealth of boomers, more than twice that of Gen Xers and 23 times that of millennials. Equity built up in real estate accounted for much of the discrepancy.
Instead of giving seniors discounts and tax breaks, perhaps it’s time to ask them to pay the full costs of the health and long-term care they receive. Such a proposal would be political suicide, however, since there are so many seniors, who historically have been more likely to vote than their millennial counterparts.
One way to help smooth the aging curve might lie in recruiting skilled young immigrants to replace the missing workers from the dearth of births. And Canada is doing exactly that. There were more than 570,000 people in Canada on student visas at the end of 2018, almost 75 per cent more than in 2014. Many of these students can apply for permanent-resident status after graduation.
But immigration can have only a limited impact on societal aging, in part because immigrants often apply to bring their parents over as well. And opening the immigration floodgate beyond the 341,000 that Canada is expected to take in this year could provoke strong opposition from the native born. The populist Coalition Avenir Québec government in Quebec, for example, is cutting back on immigrants and requiring new arrivals to take a Quebec values test.
Another approach to coping with the costs of aging has barely registered with most people: long-term-care insurance. As with other forms of workplace insurance, workers and employers would make contributions toward a fund that would cover the costs of home care, assisted living, nursing home and palliative care when they need it later in life.
There are plenty of questions: How much would it cost? Would older people today be eligible to receive the funds, or would only those who had contributed for decades qualify? Several countries, including Germany, already have such a program in place, which could serve as a template.
At McMaster University, Prof. Raina would like to see long-term-care insurance or other forms of government support for people who must work less in order to care for someone who has dementia or other intensive needs. He is also a strong proponent of care centres for the elderly, where caregivers can drop off their charges for part of the day while they work or just take a break.
“I think some kind of respite care that is based in the community is really, really important,” he says.
Ms. Estabrooks at TREC emphasizes the need to help seniors “age in place.”
“We’ve got to enhance community supports, and home care is probably the biggest one,” she says. But what matters most is moving from this study and that pilot program to full-scale initiatives. “We can do this by tackling each problem one solution at a time.“
Housing anxiety for seniors
In the Toronto area’s heated housing market, three women over 80 face hard choices about whether to stay or go. Photographer Emma Kreiner tells their stories.
Without long-term solutions to the fiscal challenges of an aging society, intergenerational tensions are likely to rise. In some countries, those tensions are already severe.
In December’s British elections, English attitudes toward Brexit – with supporters of leaving the European Union inclined toward the Conservatives and opponents toward most other parties – were defined by age more than by geography or class. The youngest voters most fiercely opposed Brexit, and the oldest most fervently supported it, no matter where they lived or what their income.
“Age is now one of the key dividing lines in British politics,” said Gideon Skinner, public affairs research director for Ipsos MORI. In the election, according to the British polling firm, Labour had a 26-point lead among 18-to-34-year-olds, while the Conservatives had a 37-point lead among people 65 and older.
Some believe younger voters are more socially tolerant than older voters. But that isn’t entirely true. “Younger generations are generally far more accepting of diversity of gender, race, religion as compared with an older generation,” observes Lorraine Mercer, a professor of gerontology at Huntington University, which is part of Sudbury’s Laurentian University. “And yet, I don’t think they’re as accepting of older people. All the stereotypes of older people they still buy into.” Ageism – discriminating against a person because they are older – may be the last barrier to full diversity.
Although, as Prof. Raina says, ageism spans the generations. “Older people can be ageist toward other older people.”
There is, however, one massively important, although impossible to quantify, counterbalance to the prospect of growing intergenerational tension: love.
As Mr. Nicin points out, children want their parents to live long and healthy lives. And parents are anxious not to be a burden to their children. Whatever the official age of retirement, many people are working past 65 of their own volition. Pension experts are exploring new options to encourage retirement savings.
“We are all worried about each other,” Mr. Nicin says. “We all care for each other.” He expects to see an increase in intergenerational housing over the years, as children, parents and grandparents lean on one another for support. “The more we depend on each other, and not on the state, the better off we are,” he believes.
For as long as we can foresee, there will be more older and fewer younger people among us every year. If we are to live well, we must care for one another, however old we are and whatever we may need.