Ageing of population

Position Paper | Year 2004
Ageing of the population
Class of the Humanities
The ageing of the population was the subject of a three-day symposium with a different aspect being highlighted on each day.

On the first day, the demographic aspect was considered.

Professor Hilary Page of the Department of Population Science and Socioscientific Methodology, University of Gent), spoke on “Ageing of the population: demographic overview and expectations”. After situating the evolution of the age structure of the Belgian population in relation to those of other countries, she explained the evolution in the socio-demographic characteristics of the older population: the way in which tomorrow’s old people will differ from those of yesterday and today.

Thérèse Jacobs, professor and director of the Centre for Population and Family Studies (CBGS) lectured on “The quality of life in later years”. She discussed some fields including income, health, the ability to act independently and network support, which are particularly important for the quality of life. After considering the distribution of different qualities of life among the elderly population, she showed how far deficiencies in one field can be accentuated by deficiencies in other fields, thus delimiting groups that risk a diminished quality of life. Finally she reflected on the results of encouraging ‘active ageing’ on the basis of recent surveys by the CBGS.

On the second day, the ageing of the population was studied from the point of view of social policy.

Professor Bea Cantillon, director of the Centre for Social Policy (UA), talked on the demographics of ageing : background and expectancies. All Western welfare states, including Belgium, have for some time been carrying out the necessary restructuring. Nevertheless, Belgium is still insufficiently prepared for the cost of ageing. There are three reasons : particularly high public debt, very low participation of the elderly and finally the relations between the communities, which hinder a coordinated policy concerning work and care. A coherent policy plan would have three key principles: an equitable distribution of the charges between and within the generations, high quality affordable care for everyone and use of the possibilities of both elderly and young people.

Professor Paul Van Rompuy (KULeuven, Department of Economy) followed with
“Budgetary Implications of an Ageing Population”, in which he discussed the increasing cost of ageing for social security (pensions and health care). To guarantee future social rights without increasing insurance  ontributions or taxes, it is of absolute importance rapidly to create sufficient reserves as in the “Zilverfonds”, by building up budget surpluses. An increase of the proportion of the population in employment and a lengthening of the active career of 50-plussers will help this budgetary policy in the coming ten years.

In “How to make a success of the ageing of the population”, the former minister for employment and pensions, Frank Vandenbroucke, said that the fact that we get old and benefit longer from our pensions, often in good health, is a plus point for society. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that poorer health and reduced physical and mental abilities accompany ageing, so that more caring is needed. The availability of care must be attuned to the needs of an ageing population: less acute care but more
first line and volunteer help and more places in sheltered housing. Adaptation of the hospital landscape, with more emphasis on gerontology and revalidation, requires a greater efficiency in the  use of funds as the cost must stay within budgetary limits. Health care is now the greatest field for an increase in employment. Ageing of the population thus provides added economic value and gives new scope to those who now have difficulty finding employment.

In the Final session, management and trade unions had their say.

Xavier Verboven, interregional secretary of the ABVV (Confederation of Belgian Trade Unions), spoke on “The Ageing of Society : a Plea for a Positive Approach”. The “verzilvering” exists thanks to our social security. It is a plus point. We cannot ignore the challenge to make use of an ageing population. The extra cost can be compensated by reducing unemployment. This will not happen from one day to the next and we must get rid of our preconceived ideas, one of which is that it would suffice to increase the pension age.

The last talk was given by Bernadette Adnet, consultant in the social security department of the VBO (Confederation of Belgian Industries) on “The Impact of an Ageing Population on Business ; Has it an Influence on Competitiveness ?” Ageing will have a considerable effect on the labour market because of the reduction in the 45 year old group and a very large increase in the number of elderly people, and on the viability of the social security system owing to additional costs of health care and pensions, even when account is taken of the reduction in child benefit payments and unemployment. The VBO recommends a major reform both of pension age and of health care, this last by introducing mechanisms to control the costs, to share government costs and to share the total cost between society and the individual.

Available documents


  • Bea Cantillon
  • Paul Van Rompuy
  • Hilary Page
  • Frank Vandenbroucke
  • Xavier Verboven
  • Therese Jacobs
  • Bernadette Adnet