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Toolkits 29th January 2019

The Retired and Ageing: is social capital an untapped potential?

By Sarag

The retired and ageing hold two invaluable commodities time and knowledge. With employment, affordable housing and free university education, the older generation accumulated a large amount of social capital, in the form of knowledge and connections. By recycling this social capital attained by the ageing generation we could facilitate significant benefits for society.

There is a common characterisation that the ageing population is further increasing pressures on our healthcare services and could even lead to a financial burden at the individual level. This idea is heavily enforced by our media, that has continually prompted us into this way of thinking. The Guardian, for instance, suggests that 2.8 million people over the age of 65 will need nursing and social care by 2025.

There seems to be an over-reporting of potential financial costs, setting the trap for a simplistic argument. This focus on portraying a whole generation in terms of ‘financial costs’ only leads other generations to be concerned with the future ‘financial burden’ they may find themselves facing.

Instead, we should be capitalising on the wealth of knowledge and experience that this older generation has to offer society. We should be focused on sharing knowledge across generations, looking to our elders to offer their expertise built over a lifetime of experience.

By adopting this mindset and starting to ask different questions we, as a society, could start to nurture significant rewards.

What can we learn?

1) Can we make use of the wealth of knowledge and channel it through education into schools, community groups and assisting with charities? YES.

How often do we complain that there is not enough ‘real -life experience’ taught in schools?

We can create schemes where those who have this experience partner and interact with those who are learning and starting their way in the world. Both parties can learn from each other, helping foster understanding and mutual respect by altering perceptions between the generations.

Charities too are always in need of people from all different experiences and backgrounds. Widening the experience pool in the third sector can only help the interaction across sectors and better aid the end users of the charities focus.

2) Could there be mentorship programs for young professionals that would increase GDP growth? YES.

Entering the world of work can be extremely challenging. Young professionals often have no experience – whilst the retired have experience, knowledge and more often than not, time. This social capital needs to be passed on.

Mentoring is an amazing and currently undervalued way of passing on knowledge and advice. These sorts of programs would be incredibly rewarding as they could positively impact people’s futures. Imagine the innovation and growth we would see by leveraging the experience of those that have gone before us.

3) Could the older generation offer parental and pastoral support? YES.

Parents and grandparents have what is often an underappreciated role in society for providing parental and pastoral support. Helping to take care of others and nurture their growth is a highly rewarding pastime and has many social and psychological benefits.

It also would help to ease the ‘workload’ on an increasing number of families and single parents who are trying to balance the pressures between work and family. This would allow younger generations to have careers and further their professional lives; working to increase household incomes and further boost the economy.

Other positive effects

AgeUK has illustrated the importance of staying active, both physically and mentally, and how being ‘switched on’ can be led to a healthy, longer life. What better way to remain active and social than by utilising all of the experience you have pulled together in your life and sharing that with others.

Mentoring, for example, is both highly rewarding and requires ongoing cognitive function to stimulate the mind. What a brilliant way to foster cross-generation dialogue and start to break down our inter-generational prejudice.

It’s also well known that as we age, we lose many social connections. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Bringing generations together, we can build new relationships and networks and help to ensure everyone has that all-important social structure.

The retired and ageing hold two of the most valuable resources in life, experience and knowledge. They also often have the time to invest in sharing that with others. As a society we could be tapping into this resource, sharing the social capital this group has attained with the younger generations. Over time, imagine the positive outcomes we would see.


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