Present-day societies are experiencing significant changes which give rise to new social risks. These changes affect demographic structure, and population ageing is now a universal phenomenon: the elderly currently make up more than 20 per cent of the population in the developed countries and almost 10 per cent in the developing countries. Also the rhythm of population ageing is quickening in the developing world and it is estimated that by 2050, 79 per cent of the world's elderly people will be living in the developing world.
Family structures are changing too. The traditional model of the wider family is increasingly being superseded by that of the nuclear family, either one headed by a single parent or one reconfigured from members of previous families: in the year 2000, 18 to 29 per cent of all households with children were single-parent families in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries. The status of women is changing and the proportion of women in employment is steadily rising (over 50 per cent in the developed countries, around 40 per cent in the developing countries), and this requires a reallocation of the traditional gender roles. The increasingly structural nature of unemployment is a further challenge of major importance.
It is important to note that these changes are affecting all countries, without exception, though the scale of them may differ from one country to the next depending on a country's level of economic and social development. Exclusion, the primary victims of which are children, is thus becoming a universal social phenomenon, albeit to varying degrees.
These changes not only have implications for social policy; they also pose a threat to social security systems and their financial sustainability over the long term.
The main challenges which present-day family policies have to confront require answers to two basic questions:
This is all the more important in that a healthy and well-educated younger generation, plus a higher percentage of female and youth employment, are essential if our social security systems are to remain financially viable over the longer term.
To that end, we need to study the changes taking place in family structure and the role of family policies in combating exclusion and poverty, especially of children, together with ways of combining work and family life and improving access to employment for women and young people, against a background of socio-economic change. Consideration of these factors will help to identify areas of innovative action, lessons learnt and good practice solutions in family policy.
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