Why is it important to learn demographics

Demography and Civic Education : "Learning democracy" is particularly important today

"Demographics is Destiny" was the headline of the American magazine "The Weekly Standard" in a book review in April 2012. Population is the source of power, namely economic and military power. Developed countries in demographic decline, it is suspected, may have nuclear weapons, but lack the military "manpower" due to a lack of young people. In the event of a security threat or provocation, such countries then had only two options: passivity or overreaction.
An aging society - an unintentional possible trigger of a nuclear war? You don't have to be that pessimistic. But a rapidly aging society - faster in Germany than anywhere else - confronts us with questions that we are only beginning to discuss today, although the age development had to be clearly calculated in advance over 20 years ago.

How can mobility and health be preserved into old age, what needs to be done to achieve this? Which nursing and care facilities do we need, how can we help secure the cohesion of families and generations? How do we answer ethically highly sensitive questions that arise more and more in an aging society, for example the question of euthanasia? Do we need more immigration, and if so, from whom? These are questions that concern political education in Germany and that must be addressed by it in events and publications.

Now comes the but: Does that also mean that political education must take the ever-increasing number of old people as an opportunity to focus more on them as a target group for their offers? I mean: by and large no. That might sound harsh, and you can already guess the warning voices: Can we as political educators really afford to ignore the growing older generation?

Of course we can't. A large part of our offers are already aimed at people outside of adolescence - referred to in technical jargon as multipliers of political education, for example community studies and politics teachers, adult education center lecturers, volunteers in associations and organizations with political tasks. This will also be the case in the future.

The older the people, the more politically interested

We also have to get a realistic picture of the older generation. The "Generali Age Study" from 2013 brought a multitude of important facts to light. It paints the portrait of an older generation in Germany, "whose most important concern is to remain independent, both financially and from concrete help from third parties". Autonomy is their "central leitmotif". The "Welt am Sonntag" recently even ran the headline: "The wild old people are coming".

Whether wild or not: According to the Generali age study, older people are politically more interested and informed, and a clear majority still see themselves as responsible for the development of the country and society and do not want to leave this primarily to the younger ones. For at least 19 percent of the elderly, greater involvement is an option. This is an opportunity for political education: this potential needs to be leveraged for voluntary and political engagement.

Nevertheless, young people should remain the focus of our efforts in the future. You don't come into the world as democrats, you have to become one. Political education is required for this, and it rarely comes by itself. Young people today are relatively little interested in institutional politics ("uncool"), but are often very interested in social issues that are predominantly political: justice, environmental protection and equality, for example. Involvement in established institutions such as political parties, on the other hand, is almost flatly rejected.

Political education must play a bigger role in schools

The turnout of the younger age cohorts is in some cases far below average, the level of political information usually needs improvement - to put it cautiously. The poorer the segment of the population from which young people come, the more the deficits in knowledge and participation tend to worsen; and even among students, political interest has sunk considerably, as a study published at the end of October on behalf of the federal government shows. This is where political education has to start if democracy is to be secured in the long term and to remain attractive. The extremists from left and right are not sleeping.

Young people are being courted today like no other generation before them. This is mainly due to the fact that companies, social organizations such as clubs and associations and, increasingly, many educational institutions have huge concerns about young talent. As a result, the attention of young people is fiercely fought for - for example, there is almost no organization left that is not represented in social networks, a particularly popular playground for younger people in particular. So that political education does not lose out in this competition from the outset, it urgently needs to be strengthened - especially in schools, where it has been neglected in recent years and has been reduced further and further.

Politics, which must also be conveyed to young people, is not least the organization of interests. In a society in which older people make up the vast majority of the electorate, it is easier to finance higher pensions than superfast Internet connections. As soon as the mother's pension and the pension from 63 had been decided in the Bundestag, the headline "Spiegel" headlined: "The crumbling state". The related article referred to the partially ailing infrastructure of our country and the (still) lacking future investments.

If young people want to live in security and prosperity in the future, then they have to get involved in their interests. Political education can contribute significantly to creating a better basis for this. Your financial and human resources are therefore a clear indication of how serious politics is about the future prospects of young people.

Lothar Frick takes part in the Democracy Congress of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation on the subject of demography on November 21 in Bonn. Tagesspiegel.de publishes this article as part of a demography discussion in cooperation with the KAS.

To home page