>Greying democracies


As Facebook and other contacts may know, I have research interest in interest-group politics and ageing societies in CEE, so it was a pleasure to review Achim Goerres’s recent book The Political Participation of Older People in Europe: The Greying of Our Democracies. (Basingstoke: PalgraveMacmillan, 2009). In the book, Goerres, who has been one of the pioneers in comparatively exploring the political consequences of population ageing in European democracies offers a characteristically empirically thoroughly comparative study of the political participation of older people in 21 European democracies, including the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia.

The book skilfully unpacks the notion of ‘old age’ into a series of age-related factors, which Georres argues fall into three broad categories: 1) life cycle effects such as the transition to retirement; 2) political generational effects linked to political socialization in youth; and 3) socio-economic cohort effects linked to (post-) modernization trends affecting successive (rising educational levels; and individual ageing effects such as the tendency to habituate to social norms with age. After presenting an ‘age-related model of political participation’ which basically integrates these factors into a modified resource perspective, the book considers older people’s electoral turnout; party choice; membership in parties and interest groups; and involvement in unconventional direct forms of participation.

Goerres relies mainly on number crunching quantitative techniques usually examining individual level survey data to gauge age-related effects which he them statistically interacts these findings with country-specific factors to account for further variation. The chapter on party choice, however, uses a paired country comparison of Germany UK), while quantitative findings on unconventional participation are supplemented by a chapter based on interviews with British pensioner activists protesting the impact of local property taxes.

The book’s findings are rich and complex, but the overall picture they present is one of a shifting complex of age-related factors shaping older people’s participation, sometimes working against one, sometimes important only in combination with country-specific factors, but always varying in significance according to the specific form of participation under review. Interesting general findings running through the book include the role played by life experience in substituting for formal education as an influence on participation and tendency of younger citizens to participate more in societies with higher proportions of pensioners or more strongly pro-senior public opinion. There’s not much on institutions and limited cross country comparison, but overall, it’s clearly written, thorough and original book offers a corrective to superficial notions that population ageing is turning Western democracies into gerontocracies subject to a growing monolithic ‘grey vote’ or a war of generations– see this week’s Economist on David Willets- and offers an excellent springboard for the development of the more sophisticated political science agenda on ‘greying democracies’ Goerres calls for.

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