The reasons for demographic change must be understood in order to make just solutions

The Strategic Research Demography Programme kick-off brought together researchers and various stakeholders. The afternoon explored the causes and consequences for demographic change and sought solutions to the challenges it brings.

Finland’s population is ageing, the birth rate is declining and the working age population is decreasing. This has huge implications for the social and health care system, the pension system, the economy, working life and social relations.   

These issues were explored in depth at the kick-off of the Strategic Research Demography programme on August 15th 2022, in Musiikkitalo Helsinki. The programme’s projects explore demographic change and produce concrete solutions to influence and adapt to it. The event recording can be watched until 1.9.2022 via this link.

– The best experts in the country will produce high-quality research to support decision-making, said Programme Director Susan Kuivalainen.  

There is a need for research knowledge at the tables of decision-makers, said Jouni Varanka, a negotiating official at the Prime Minister’s Office.  

– Decision-makers need to make decisions in uncertain situations. Research information helps to make long-term decisions. At the very least, it helps to tell you what not to do.  

Kuivalainen agreed.  

– You need to understand the reasons in order to make decisions.   

The declining birth rate is also a matter of inequality

The first thematic discussion focused on the declining birth rate. It was discussed by Professor Mikko Myrskylä (FLUX project), Director Ilkka Oksala (Confederation of Finnish Industries), Anna Rotkirch (NetResilience project) and Liisa Siika-aho, Director of the Benefits Unit (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health). 

Jari Hanska, Mikko Myrskylä, Ilkka Oksala, Anna Rotkirch and Liisa Siika-aho on stage. Photo: Timo Kuismin

The birth rate in Finland has been declining for a long time. Children are being born later and in smaller numbers. The last few years saw a brief recovery period, but now the figures have started to fall again.

The debate underlined that fertility is also a question of inequality: averages conceal a sharp polarisation. In Finland, infertility is most common among both women and men in low-skilled groups. Those who are otherwise well off often find a partner and have the number of children they want. Others may not.

Mikko Myrskylä said that the birth rate can be influenced by broadly promoting well-being.

– Simply supporting families with children is not enough, as the most vulnerable are not the ones with families. Supporting those at risk of exclusion can also contribute to birth rates.

The number working age people is decreasing, still it is difficult for many groups to get a job

The decline in the working age population was discussed by Peter Kariuki, Chief Inspector (Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations ETNO, Ministry of Justice), Terhi Ravaska, Researcher (SustAgeable project), Mikko Spolander, Director General (Ministry of Finance) and Sari Vanhanen, Researcher (Mobile Futures project). 

Jari Hanska, Mikko Spolander, Terhi Ravaska, Sari Vanhanen and Peter Kariuki. Photo: Timo Kuismin

The number of working-age people in Finland is declining, leading to a deteriorating dependency ratio and a welfare society that faces new challenges. 

– This situation has come as no surprise to anyone, said Mikko Spolander. The deterioration of the dependency ratio has been talked about for 15 years. Yet we are not sufficiently prepared. The fundamental question is whether our society will be able to generate enough revenue to finance welfare services through taxation. Is the equation sustainable?

The problem has been recognised, many reforms have been adopted and many more are being planned. The change in population structure is a big issue globally and fortunately it is getting a lot of attention now, Spolander continued.

The SustAgeable project deals, among other things, with extending working careers. 

The most effective way to increase the number of working age people is through immigration. However, Peter Kariuki from ETNO and the Ministry of Justice reminded us that even those who move for work do not come to Finland just to work. They bring their whole lives with them.

– Are we, as a society ready to include new people as part of our society? he asked.

– It is important to tackle discriminatory practices in working life so that everyone who is able and has relevant competences, can get a job, Sari Vanhanen said.

– People with a migrant background may encounter racist practices both in the labour market as well as in everyday encounters. These issues need to be addressed and brought to the wider societal discussion. Young adults with a migrant background born in Finland may face discrimination on the basis of their name alone. The responsibility for changing these practices and structures lies on all of us and Finnish society as a whole. 

These are some of the key issues that we research in the Mobile Futures consortium.

Life expectancy is increasing – social networks are important for well-being in old age

Life expectancy was discussed by Anni Lausvaara, Executive Director (The Finnish Association for the Welfare of Older People), Mirkka Danielsbacka, Researcher (NetResilience project), Antti Parpo, Preparatory Director (Southwest Finland Welfare Region) and Lasse Tarkiainen, Researcher (LIFECON project). 

Mirkka Danielsbacka, Anni Lausvaara, Antti Parpo and Lasse Tarkiainen. Photo: Timo Kuismin

Inequality is also reflected in life expectancy.  Life expectancy is increasing in all income groups, but socio-economic differences can be seen. There is also a difference in how healthy the final years of life are.

Mirkka Danielsbacka said that social networks play a major role in the well-being and activity of elderly – and ultimately in how many healthy years an elderly person has left.

The panellists agreed that we often take too narrow a view of what good old age consists of. We should be prepare ourselves better for old age, and think about where we want to live and how to look after our social networks.

Here, too, socio-economic differences are visible. The well-off often have better social networks and resources to prepare for old age, for example through housing arrangements, says Lasse Tarkiainen.

Another important need for information was raised: Antti Parpo wanted to know what older people themselves want. What is their vision of a good life? What kind of housing and services do they want? The NetResilience and SustAgeable projects are also conducting surveys to find out what older people want.

Societal impact through ongoing discussions

Kuivalainen stressed that the earlier researchers exchange ideas with stakeholders, the more effective the research will be. She invited stakeholders to participate in the discussion and encouraged them to actively engage with the projects. 

The Demography programme will continue close collaborations, with events organised by the projects themselves as well as a series of workshops, that will bring researchers and stakeholders together to generate knowledge.

Daniela Alaattinoglu. Photo: Timo Kuismin

Mobile Futures own stakeholder Living Lab will be held on the 2nd of November, we will post more information on this soon! 

See the recording from the kick-off

DEMOGRAPHY Kick off from Musiikkitalo on Vimeo. Can be watched until 1.9.2022.

Get to know the other DEMOGRAPHY-Projects!

Photo: Timo Kuismin

Family Formation in Flux – Causes, Consequences, and Possible Futures (FLUX)

Life course and economic implications of demographic change (LIFECON)

Sustageable – Economic and social sustainability across time and space in an ageing society

Social networks, fertility and wellbeing in ageing populations: Building demographics resilience in Finland (NetResilience)