Home >  Service >  Interviews >

Prof. Dr. Marcel Erlinghagen


Soziologisches Institut, Universität Duisburg-Essen



Interview of June 12, 2012 from Stephanie Schmidt



Prof. Erlinghagen, how active does the aging society get involved?

Currently every third adult gets involved in social commitments in Germany. With this, the proportion of active people has continuously risen in the last 25 years. Here, the group of above 50 years old show the largest increase. That this group of the 50+ show especially high growth rates has various reasons. For one thing it captures the overall better health and education in the generation of the elderly. And the so called “cohort effect” can be assumed, meaning that the socially committed generation of the political movement of 1968 is now entering retirement age and maintains their social commitment.


In which areas does this commitment primarily take place?

The activities are very diverse. But traditionally in Germany, the commitment is especially high within sports- every 10th person commits here. Also of significant importance are churches as well as religious organizations and the education sector.


What are the reasons for the decision of older people getting involved? Do those, that decide to get involved in social commitments, stay in their previous working environment or do they exploit new scopes of duty?

Unfortunately there are no significant scientific analyses of the motives why people get socially committed, stay committed or stop their commitment. So we still have to rely on assumptions. But it is clear, that older people do not suddenly start to get socially committed once they reach retirement. Active seniors usually have done voluntary work throughout their lives or at least time and again. In what areas though is changeable in the course of life and also depends on certain situations within their biography. In middle-aged people, social commitment is usually connected to their own children. When the children leave home, the commitment continues or resumes in other areas. The previous job will only play a tangential role concerning the areas of commitment.


You talk about possibilities and limits of productive aging – in your opinion, what are possibilities/ where are the limits?

In public we sometimes behave as if older people, after leaving working life, are an unproductive burden of society that will even increase due to the ongoing aging of society. This perception is not only highly questionable for ethically reasons but also ignores that a large number of older people still have important social positions in voluntary work for example, but also take part in neighborly help or in the care and support of grandchildren or sick relatives. Besides these directly positive implications, there are also positive effects on the elderly themselves.   Someone who engages in social commitments stays fit more easily, gets to know people. But such positive effects can only be expected when social commitment does not become a burden. The danger exists, that through a shifting of governmental, socio-political measures on the voluntary sector, not only the quality of social services suffers due to the lack of professionals. An excessive demand on socially active people can lead to negative health impacts and would rather harm than be of use for our society.


You are warning about a hyper stimulation of a new societal ideal of “productive aging”. Why?

We, as a society have to be careful not to misuse the productive, voluntary working senior as a new societal ideal. This would lead to the dangerous perception that older people are only of value for society when they are productive- being in a job or in social commitments. Apart from the right of leisure, the ideal of “productive aging” also misjudges that social commitment is not without precondition. Good health and foremost high education increases the likelihood of a person being active in voluntary work- because health and education are often essential conditions to be active in voluntary work. So social commitment is not without precondition. Education, health and a professional state infrastructure are guarantors for social commitment. If those conditions are missing, we cannot accuse those people of a lack of interest for their fellow human beings. It is urgent to oppose to the perception that only a active senior is a valuable member of society.


Don’t potential jobs cease through this commitment of the elder generation?

If the social state continues to withdraw, and more or less openly tries to take care of unmanageable tasks by lower costs “volunteers”, then there is the danger of regular jobs ceasing- regardless if older or younger people become active in voluntary work. The experience of the so called “1- Euro- Job” leads to the assumption that regular jobs have been replaced through the “1-Euro-Jobs”, even though it was announced otherwise. So it is important that voluntary commitment is an addition to, and cannot be, a substitute for paid professional work.


Sokoll: Administrator
Latest Revision: 2013-05-07
zum Seitenanfang/up