Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Greying in Liguria

by Edward Hugh

This article in the IHT provides an interesting insight into how the ageing process is affecting one region of Italy, the Liguria region whose capital is Genoa. Probably the idea of NO children in the streets is something of an exaggeration, but the main picture is clear:

There are hundreds of stores in the Fiumara Mall - Sephora, Elan, Lavazza Café. But in a nation long known for its hordes of children, there is not one toy store in the sprawling mix, and a shiny merry-go-round stands dormant.

"This is a place for old people," said Francesco Lotti, 24, strolling with his fiancée in Genoa's medieval old town. "Just look around. You don't see young people." Even for people their age, "there are not many places - no clubs, for example." Playgrounds? He looks quizzically at his fiancée. They can count them on a few fingers.

While all of Europe has suffered from declining birthrates, nowhere has the drop been as profound and prolonged as in this once gorgeous Mediterranean city, the capital of Italy's graying Liguria region. Genoa provides a vision of Europe's aging future, displaying the challenges that face a society with more old than young, and suggesting how hard it will be to reverse the downward population spiral.

The article usefully highlights the fact that one of the big problems with population ageing is surely going to be the regional imbalances which are generated within countries as well as between them. Those countries who manage to leverage immigration to maintain and even increase their populations will undoubtedly fare better, and those regions within states which attract migrants will do better than those that don't.

In Spain Madrid, Valencia and Catalonia stand out head and shoulders above the rest of the autonomous communities, since they are enjoying far higher levels of economic growth and their populations are now not ageing anything like as rapidly as they would have been, while some of the other regions are going to face severe problems. This of course is producing its own internal political tensions.

The old East Germany would be another example of this process at work. As we can see from Liguria the problem is particularly strong in areas where family networks provide traditional care for the elderly and where suddenly there are far fewer children to share the load, while the women in question are at the same time working more and more to make up for labour market deficits. In my experience here in Spain it is women in the 45 to 55 age group who are carrying a very disproportionate part of the burden, at one and the same time working, taking care of their own children who have still not left home and caring for elderly parents. Stress as we know is an important element in the 'rate of ageing' and this generation of females are bound to pay a price here, especially as the need to balance state budgets and the consequent cutbacks only piles on the load. Put another way, should it surprise us if survey after survey shows that while the most popular web pages among men are those related to sport and money, women mainly surf pages connected with health.

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