The aging of the population is most often discussed as a welfare problem where older people appear as objects needing free arthrozene rather than important political actors. Here we will place the main emphasis on the actor perspective, but first a few words about whether longer lives and older populations will be able to have political consequences in a more indirect way.
It seems so in the sense that care for the elderly has gained a larger place on the political agenda in recent years. There has been a lot of political noise about the elderly policy, but in reality little controversy. The needs of older people have been seen with great sympathy in all political parties, which have almost competed to be friendly to the elderly, especially in speeches if not as clearly in action. The elderly issues also have great support and legitimacy in the population – also among younger people (Bay 1998, Aardal 1999). Similar patterns are found in other European countries (Walker 1993, Walker & Naegele 1999). Population development is probably not the only explanation for this, but is an essential part of it.
The support is particularly high for elderly care and especially care for those most in need of care (Bay 1998). In this way, nursing homes are stronger than old-age pensions both among politicians and in public opinion. It is primarily the weakness of old age that invites sympathy, compassion and solidarity. This is an example of how powerlessness can be a source of influence, at least when this powerlessness is seen as unjustified.
The broad support for elderly measures in public opinion cannot be explained only by self-interest. Admittedly, older people are somewhat more likely to support such measures than younger people, but the differences are moderate. Elderly measures also have great legitimacy among young people; perhaps as much as child and youth measures have among the elderly. It’s hard to believe that younger people think about their own old age when they quit the policy of the elderly. Life phase interests probably come into play, but are not dominant (Rhodebeck 1993). Then the general norm of responsibility seems to be stronger – the obligation to help people in need. This can be about an altruistic attitude (towards anyone) or primarily about taking responsibility for those in need of help that one identifies with (solidarity).
The sympathy for the elderly policy also seems to draw nourishment from a tendency among most people to exaggerate the problems of the elderly (Bay 1998, Lødemel & Flaa 1993). This is also the case among politicians, where the tendency to support transfers to the elderly increases with how great the needs are (Lubomudrow 1997).
The increased number of older people can also be expected to have a greater influence due to the fact that they make up an increasing proportion of the electorate. Politicians may be tempted to place greater emphasis on the interests of older people in order to attract older voters. This can be counteracted by the belief that older people are more loyal to their party than younger voters are. In that case, the focus is rather on the young voters, who also have the value that they have a longer future as voters.
All in all, the longer life and the increased weight of the elderly population have probably contributed to the needs and interests of old age becoming higher on the political agenda, but then primarily the frailty of the fourth age. It has been more difficult to create interest in the third age. Politics and the media thus contribute to confirming the stereotypical image of aging as a weakening and older people as burdens. The poor political conditions for public investment have further contributed to weakening the position of the elderly and other clients in society. They appear as foreigners (the wave of the elderly) and as burdens for the younger part of the population (generational justice), which in the long run may weaken support for measures for the elderly.