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27 October 2006

When Life Expectancy Far Outstrips the Birth Rate — "What Is Age?"

Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities announces interdisciplinary symposium — "We want to give the discussion on age and aging new impulses."

"Age" and "aging" are catchwords very much in vogue at the moment. The scenarios floated by politicians, economists, medical scientists, psychologists, biologists and philosophers are enough to make anyone sit up and take notice. The media are full of horror visions and in many public discussions the demographic development is not the only thing that appears to have gone off the rails. But even allowing for some rampant exaggeration the situation is alarming. Life expectancy, especially above the age of 60, is spiralling upwards all the time and with it the proportion of retired people and old-age pensioners. And the birth rate is lower than it has ever been before. This poses a variety of issues, including the survival capacity of economically highly developed countries, the solidarity between the generations and the future of sustainable social systems. In regions suffering from an exodus of young people, the structural problems have already become frighteningly apparent.

From 15 to 17 November 2006, the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities is organising a scientific symposium dealing in depth with both the problems and the opportunities arising from an aging society. The conference intentionally stands back from the sometimes over-emotional discussion taking place at the moment and asks an apparently simple question that still requires clarification: What is age? The programme committee is chaired by Prof. Dr. Ursula M. Staudinger (International University of Bremen), the steering committee by Prof. Dr. Dr. Heinz Häfner (Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim). "Our aim is to bring together outstanding scientists and scholars from different disciplines," says Häfner "and thus to give the discussion on age and aging new impulses."

The symposium approaches the phenomenon of age from four different perspectives: physical and medical aspects; demography, society and politics; behaviour; culture and the constitution of meaning. The urgency of this topic is illustrated by the forecasts notably for Europe and Japan, with some delay for America and China, and ultimately for all countries on this planet. Aging populations cause social, cultural and probably political upheavals unparalleled in human history. How can they be dealt with? Can they be dealt with at all? Does science hold out an answer? What can it say about increasingly longer life after retirement in good mental and physical health and contributions to social productivity? What does it have to tell us about topics like justice between generations, social change and meaningful activity in old age? "We are beginning to realise that age is one of the key topics for our future," says Prof. Dr. Peter Graf Kielmannsegg, president of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, "but we have yet to grasp the multiplicity of its aspects. The symposium is designed to help us do precisely that."

Neuer Sitzungssaal, Heidelberg City Hall, Marktplatz 10, 69117 Heidelberg, 15-17 November 2006.

More information on the symposium, the speakers and the schedule can be found on the internet at www.was-ist-alter.de

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Johannes Schnurr
Public Relations Officer
Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
phone: 06221/543400, fax: 543355

Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Heinz Häfner
phone: 0621/17032951, fax: 17032955

More general inquiries from journalists can also be addressed to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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