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Reforming the Welfare State in Times of Grey Majorities. The Myth of an Opposition between Younger and Older Voters in Germany

GPS, Vol. 4 No. 2, (2008)

Is there an antagonism between young and old in the electoral
arena that could lead to the obstruction of welfare-state reforms?
This article argues that this notion is a myth and lacks empirical
evidence for the case of Germany. It is true that (a) there are
imminent majorities of voters aged 50 and older; (b) older voters
benefit from many welfare state programs and (c) life-cycle
interests shape some attitudes towards single public policies.
However, these facts alone do not represent an antagonism between
young and old in the electoral arena. Firstly, differences in party
preferences between age groups are due to generational effects
associated with early political socialization. Secondly, life-cycle
interests do not shape the German party competition because age is
not a political division line (cleavage). Young age/ old age is only a
transitional boundary that all of us aspire to cross, meaning that
material old-age interests are important to everyone. Finally, grey
interests parties are notoriously weak and try to become parties for
the interests of all age groups.

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