More immigrants and late retirement, the lifesavers for the Spain of the 200,000 centenarians

María Branyas, 115 years old, is today the oldest person in Spain and the second in the world. Her name circulated strongly when did covid overcome in 2020 despite his advanced age. But soon his story could become commonplace: predictions suggest that it will be increasingly common to exceed those thresholds that today seem almost impossible. The population projections of the National Institute of Statistics published in October anticipate a boom of centenarians in Spain. They will be multiplied by fifteen when going from the current 14,287 to 226,932 in 2072. It is the equivalent of a city the size of Granada in which only citizens over 100 years old live.

The news that, on a recurring basis, investigate the biographies of those who exceed the century of life may have to raise the age bar to continue being striking. Because Spain is getting old. Around 2050, those over 65 will reach their maximum, 30.4% of the population, almost one in three inhabitants. It is due to two factors: the unstoppable increase in life expectancy (men will live 86 years in 2071 and women 90 years), and low fertility (1.19 children per woman in 2020).

Experts in the sector insist that this phenomenon should not be spoken of as something negative, because buying time for death is always good news. But the issue is increasingly being studied because of its enormous implications. This week the International Conference on the Economy of Longevity was held in Salamanca, organized by the International Center on Aging (CENIE). And two ideas stood out above the rest: in a context of few births and lengthening of life, to sustain the pension system it is necessary to promote the arrival of immigrants —the INE predicts that thanks to this the Spanish population will grow to 52.9 million in 2072—. The other reflection put forward by the experts was to facilitate the voluntary delay of retirement.

Nobel laureate in Economics Richard Thaler, one of the speakers, pointed out both solutions in his speech. “Either we have more babies or we have to bring in more workers,” he warned. Since turning around the tendency to procreate less is neither easy nor fast, the second option gains weight. “If someone mistakenly put me in charge of the US economy, the first thing I would do is bring in two million immigrant workers,” says Thaler. The professor at the University of Chicago sees it necessary to reflect on how to allow the elderly to continue to be useful at a time when people not only live longer, but also reach old ages with fewer health problems.

Demographic issues are sometimes associated with dense academic studies, but its evolution leads it to fully enter the political agenda. According to the United Nations, this November 15 the planet will reach 8,000 million inhabitants. That milestone catches humanity analyzing what to do with its own success. Advances in medicine, nutrition and life habits that place it before frontiers that so many had never reached.

Andrew J. Scott, Professor at the London School of Economics and author of the book The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in the Age of Longevity, believes that we cannot ignore the time ahead of us when planning our life trajectory. “If every 10 years life expectancy increases two or three years, it is as if every day we had 6 or 8 more hours. And if we had 32-hour days, wouldn’t we do different things? I would structure them differently. I would get up earlier, take a nap at noon, eat five times… I mean, change the course of my day. That’s what we have to do with longevity.”

When talking about this reorganization, a premise gains strength that not everyone likes: more years will be worked on. “We love reaching retirement and receiving a State pension, but it will be unavoidable to work more,” concludes Scott, who calculates that if we live 100 years it would not be strange for us to work until 80. The theory, however, is not simple to put into practice. And it would run into strong resistance. This is proven by cases such as that of France, where Emmanuel Macron has been stuck for years with the reform to raise the retirement age due to the opposition it arouses.

At the Salamanca forum, the Spanish Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, was in favor of continuing to encourage those who voluntarily want to continue their working life beyond retirement age. “The welfare state is based on tax revenues derived from the level of employment and wages we have. It cannot happen that people who want to continue working at a certain age find it difficult to do so”.

Spain offers to charge a plus to those who postpone their retirement. Specifically, a 4% pension increase for each year of delay, a single check of up to 12,000 euros or a mixture of both. And Escrivá maintains that the formula is working without the need to impose obligations: According to their data, the number of people who retire before the age of 61 has fallen by 12%, and those who decide to retire after the age of 65 have increased by 7%.

The turnaround is not only economic. “When he was little he would go to family parties in London with lots of cousins ​​and only two grandparents. Now, in many countries there is only one grandchild, two parents and four grandparents”, compares Scott, from the London School of Economics. According to his vision, life in the 20th century had three clearly differentiated stages: education, work and retirement. Now, the model must be more flexible, with a smooth transition from work to retirement in which it does not go from 100 to zero. A more gradual deceleration that does not take us from the office to Imserso from one day to the next, either by working fewer hours after reaching an age or by occupying different, more adapted positions.

Hervé Boulhol, responsible for pensions at the OECD, considers that democratic countries must undertake a collective reflection on the balance between contributions to Social Security, the amount of pensions and the retirement age. And he recalls that among its members there are eight countries that have mechanisms that delay the retirement age if life expectancy increases: Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Greece and Italy. Spain is not among them because it repealed the sustainability factor, made by the previous PP government and which never came into force. But the debate is not closed. In a recent document, the Bank of Spain assured that “it could be convenient to assess the introduction of automatic adjustment mechanisms that adapt some parameters of the system to the changes that occur in demographic and economic dynamics”.

María Branyas, the oldest woman in Spain, at the Santa Maria del Tura residence in Olot, in May 2020. ef

The Nobel Thaler believes that the current retirement age is an arbitrary construction. “The idea that you work until you are 65 and retire is obsolete. First of all, why 65 years? It’s just a number.” Minister Escrivá also sees negative forcing people who could continue contributing to retire. “A lot of talent is wasted, a lot of experience. And productivity gains are lost.”

Boulhol celebrates that in the last two decades the employment rate of workers between 55 and 64 years of age has increased, and that of those over 65 years of age, but these sometimes run into obstacles. It is the so-called ageism or discrimination for turning years. Escrivá recalled that according to the WHO, one in three people claim to have suffered from it, something that the minister attributes to prejudice entrenched in the business culture. In addition, he rejects the thesis that if there are no retirements, the rise of younger generations is hindered. The so-called stopper. “There is no empirical evidence to support it. If not, let’s think about whether women have entered the labor market at the expense of men. Or when millions of immigrants entered and we had lower unemployment rates.”

If ageism hinders the desire to continue working, in the case of the migratory solution, the reluctance comes from the xenophobic parties and the nationalist rise, which sometimes infect formations of the system that are traditionally less opposed to the arrival of foreign labor. The argument that take jobs away from locals in their host places has been refuted by numerous expertsbecause the number of jobs is not limited, and does not take into account their possible position as entrepreneurs or their condition as consumers.

The seven hours that changed the world

The change is vertiginous. Diego Ramiro, director of the Institute of Economy, Geography and Demography of the CSIC, expresses it in a very graphic way. If you compress the history of the Homo sapiens, the decline in mortality has taken place in the last seven hours.” The fall in infant mortality, the advancement of science, diet, physical activity, lower consumption of harmful substances… The environment is conducive to reaching new heights. With some exception. “I am concerned about the increase in smoking in women. It is going to make their life expectancy not grow as much as that of men”, says Ramiro.

Living longer is an achievement of human progress. And also a budding business in fields such as health, food or tourism. The call silvereconomy —money economy, which refers to the wealth generated by the elderly— is already moving dizzying figures, and it has a long way to go. Their high purchasing power makes them an object of desire for brands, as they already are for politicians due to their growing number, decisive in elections. According to a report by Oxford Economics, the expenditure of those over 50 years of age is higher: the 18.6 million Spanish residents in that group spent an average of 17,960 euros per person in 2019, while the 16.4 million between 25 and 49 years spent 13,970 euros each, almost four thousand euros less.

How to prevent this numerical and economic superiority from overshadowing other generations in one of the countries with the highest youth unemployment in the world is one of the challenges of the Spain of the 200,000 centenarians who will follow in the footsteps of María Branyas, the most famous tenant of the residence Santa Maria del Tura de Olot, where the woman who touches the ceiling of global longevity has lived for 20 years. She is only surpassed by the French nun Lucile Randon, 118 years old, also a covid survivor, she in 2021. Both were teenagers at the time of the so-called Spanish flu of 1918.

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More immigrants and late retirement, the lifesavers for the Spain of the 200,000 centenarians