Background: Demographic change

A young hand holds an old hand.
Picture credit: ©iStock.com / Kuzma

The term “demographic change” describes several processes of change in the composition of the population:

  • Life expectancy is increasing – older people are living longer.
  • Low birth rates – the number of children is declining.
  • This is causing an increase in the percentage of older people in the overall population.

That is changing our society: while 16.7 million Germans were 65 years of age or older in 2008, the share of this age group will rise by roughly one-third (33 percent) to 22.3 million people by the year 2030. (Source: Federal Statistical Office)
Demographic change is not unusual for a modern society, and can also be seen in similar form in other countries. It has an impact on many policy fields: from kindergarten construction or pensions policy, all the way to construction and housing. Older people more often live alone – this trend alone changes the living situation. In addition, since families are becoming smaller, there are fewer relatives who can look after the elderly. And those who are willing to do so, often do not live nearby as a result of growing mobility. So, if more older people want to stay in their own homes longer than in the past, but have less opportunity to fall back on the help of relatives than in the past, then the framework conditions need to change: for example, as regards the structural design of housing and in the nursing and health care structures.

Age-appropriate adaptation of housing

Demographic change confronts our society with new tasks, particularly as regards the design and adaptation of age-appropriate housing, neighbourhoods and regions. People’s increasing life span is leading to changed demands on housing: after all, despite medical progress, physical impairments increase in old age, making daily life more difficult. Anyone who wants to stay in their familiar surroundings for as long as possible, is dependent on a home that is as accessible as possible.

Consequently, the housing stock in Germany will in future have to be adapted more extensively to the needs of older people. The number of existing, age-appropriate homes is insufficient to meet the demand.

Good conditions in the residential environment

Satisfaction, well-being and happiness have a lot to do with whether people feel content in their residential environment and identify with their town or neighbourhood. Living also encompasses the surroundings, the neighbourhood, social contacts and the nearby facilities – be it home help and a home care service, or doctors’ surgeries, shops and public transport. In a society where the balance between the age groups is shifting, it is even more important that younger and older people are in contact with each other, help each other and stick together. The neighbourhood plays a decisive role in this context.

With its programmes and measures modelled on caring communities, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth wants to shape the impact of demographic change and exploit the opportunities it offers. After all, there are opportunities: a longer life gives people more healthy years, and many older people – particularly if they have lived in a neighbourhood for a long time – actively contribute to preserving social cohesion and quality of life there. The objective is for all generations in Germany to have good living and housing conditions. Older people should be able to live independently and participate in the life of the community for as long as possible.