Attention to aging policies, demographic trends, and research findings in other countries can provide researchers and policy makers with valuable perspectives. A recent International Spotlight review in The Gerontologist presents an overview of aging research and policies in France, a country with higher population replacement rates than its European neighbors but which is likewise experiencing challenges from population aging.
The authors note that France has a long history of state planning, and comprehensive social insurance and pension systems. French workers are able to retire at an average age of just 59, with a relatively high pension. Through pensions and other social programs, France has been able to dramatically reduce poverty among older adults, which decreased from rates around 25 percent in the 1970s to fewer than 10 percent in the first decade of the 2000s, lower than other European nations such as Italy and the United Kingdom. Due to the costs of pensions, there have been policy moves toward postponing the average retirement age, such as a recent increase in the minimum number of years of work required to qualify for a pension. Healthy aging programs and reforms to long-term care have also been promoted as a means to decrease the social expense of aging.
Like the United States, France has a growing number of older adults from immigrant and minority backgrounds. Factoring in these demographics in research is particularly challenging in France, however, where information on ethnicity and nationality is hard to come by. The traditional French political ideal of “color blind” political universalism has often obscured issues of racial discrimination and cultural differences that influence the experience of aging, which researchers are increasingly trying to address.
Despite the prominent role of the state in social welfare and in aging research, France does not have a central social insurance program for older adults, such as Medicare in the United States, and the field of aging research in France is largely diffuse and compartmentalized. Unlike, for example, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in the United States, France does not have a national agency charged with aging-specific policy agendas. Traditionally, aging research in academic and other non–governmental settings has been more compartmentalized in France than in the United States, where, for example, the Gerontological Society of America brings together medical, biological, and social researchers. Participation in the European Union has, however, facilitated the development of international transdisciplinary aging research.
Béland D and Viriot Durandal J-P. Aging in France: population trends, policy issues, and research institutions. The Gerontologist (2013); 53(2): 191–197.