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The challenge of an ageing electorate: changes in the formation of social policy in Europe?

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Population ageing in Europe is likely to lead to changes in the provision of pensions and health services. Retirement ages, work practices and housing needs will be affected but changes are likely to be mediated via new technology and hence cannot be exactly predicted. While the ageing population is usually projected in terms of dependency or support ratios, in this paper projections are for older people as a proportion of eligible voters. American experience of the growing power of the elder's lobby is related to the European context, with emphasis on the growth of a framework for lobbying activity in a European context. While a mass movement of older people is even less likely in Europe than in the USA, public choice theory would suggest that as the numbers of older people rises towards 50% of eligible voters, politicians and policy makers will change their policies even without a united elderly bloc vote. There is also empirical evidence to suggest that policy makers perceive elderly people as a homogeneous, and hence a more powerful, bloc than their real divisions in terms of age, class, ethnicity and gender might indicate. The European situation differs from the American in that the proportion of older voters is very much higher over all and will be even higher in retirement areas and in areas of out migration. The development of a Europe of the regions may allow older peoples' pressure groups to have greater influence in Brussels, by-passing their national governments. They may therefore be more effective than at present appears likely when the situation is looked at from a national perspective. Older women who, in some countries will make up 30% of the potential electorate, may come to have a growing influence on social policy as they unite with younger women to improve access to equal European citizenship for caregivers and those who receive care.

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