Report on the Labour Force Participation of Seniors and Near Seniors, and Intergenerational Relations

Overview of Intergenerational Relations

Social cohesion and social capital describe the characteristics of a society that represent the strength and number of social connections and relationships between community members including trust, reciprocity, and civic engagement. These connections between individuals are important as they encourage membership and participation in community organizations and serve to build social solidarity, mutual dependence, understanding, and cooperation; values that unite all Canadians and characterize Canadian society.Footnote 26 More specifically, intergenerational relations describe solidarity between generations; something that is built when Canadians of all ages engage, recognize and respect individuals of all generations.Footnote 27 

Intergenerational relationships in Canada are difficult to measure due to their complexity and breadth, extending throughout all milieus of society. While limited research in this area exists, various indicators have been applied to characterize the state of intergenerational relations, and challenges, within Canadian society.

Intergenerational Relations within the Family

Examinations of intergenerational relationships within the family tend to focus on informal caregiving relationships. Although the link between generations remains fundamental to the family, evidence suggests it is less focused on obligations than in the past, such as giving basic care to elderly parents or taking care of grandchildren on a regular basis. Today relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are more negotiated, reflecting an increasing desire for autonomy and to maintain a ‘good distance’. The stability of these relationships can also be affected by increasing changes in family structures due to divorces and new pairings.Footnote 28 With increases in institutionalized care over the last few decades, it is also no longer expected that families should provide informal care to older relatives. Indeed, many feel that the state should be responsible for providing primary care, such as help with daily tasks of living, to elderly relatives.Footnote 29 These shifts in family values and structures may result in intergenerational tensions when older and younger generations hold different perspectives and expectations in terms of the role of the family.

Despite shifts in attitudes towards the provision of informal care to aging relatives, population aging may increase the need for families to provide informal care to a growing number of seniors, while at the same time placing financial, emotional and physical stresson middle generations who will have to provide care and support to both younger and older family members.Footnote 30

Intergenerational Relations within the Workplace

Evidence of intergenerational challenges also exists in the workplace. A 2009 National Survey on Generations in the Workplace revealed some sharp differences in how the generations perceive each other, many of which mirror popular, and often negative, generational stereotypes based on perceptions, rather than reality.Footnote 31 Research shows that negative stereotypes, including those that suggest older workers are less productive and skilled; more resistant to change and new technologies; more difficult to train; and take more sick leave, can not only cause tensions between generations, but can cause older workers to believe these things about themselves, to question their skills and abilities, and make them more apt to leave the workforce earlier.Footnote 32

While evidence suggests that different generations possess differing work styles and work-life values, it has also been shown that managing generational differences and similarities in the workplace can optimize organizational performance and improve work environments.Footnote 32 Studies suggest that multi-generational workplaces can benefit from management-level training and employee workshops to eliminate age-related bias and to train managers on how to mitigate intergenerational conflict.Footnote 33

Intergenerational Relations within Society

In Western culture, aging is often associated with decline, dependence and frailty.Footnote 33 Seniors are often perceived as being a social and economic burden, rather than an asset to society. These inaccurate perceptions about aging often lead to discrimination, and as a result, seniors’ abilities, needs or interests may be overlooked when considering the provision and delivery of community services. Ageist stereotypes may also affect the physical and mental health of seniors by limiting fulfillment of their human needs. Indirectly, ageism may lead to seniors conforming to social expectations about how they are supposed to feel and behave, potentially restricting their activities and engagement in their communities. Ageist attitudes, perceptions and stereotypes act as a significant barrier to intergenerational solidarity within Canadian society.Footnote 33

Population aging further impacts intergenerational relationships as it raises fundamental questions about how resources are shared between generations. Concerns may include fairness and sustainability of pay-as-you-go programs, which may disproportionately burden younger generations; disagreement over whether seniors have already “pre-paid” or should continue to pay for services; and potential pressure to devote more public resources to seniors, as they account for growing number of Canadians. Indeed, various polls suggest that many Canadians believe an aging population will be a burden to Canadian society.Footnote 34,Footnote 35

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