Adapt and Cope: Strategies for Safeguarding the Quality of Life in a Shrinking Ageing Region

Annett Steinführer, Patrick Küpper, Alexandra Tautz


This article examines the adaptation and coping strategies that are in place to safeguard the quality of life in a shrinking ageing region. In particular, it is investigated which resources are available to local policy-makers and the older population in order to pursue this goal. Following an introduction to the debate of regional science about demographic change and its consequences, we introduce a theoretical differentiation between adaptation and coping. Adaptation strategies refer to the decision-makers who provide or are involved in organising public service facilities. Coping strategies and capacities refer to the customers and users affected by the changes. The population is not only passively affected by changes in public services, but also actively grapples with changed levels of infrastructure and takes up measures to safeguard their own quality of life. Empirically, we employ the results of semi-structured interviews with local and regional key persons and group interviews with elderly inhabitants of two small towns in the Harz region. The region under study is among the most ageing rural areas in Germany. Its demographic characteristics are based on many years of selective out-migration and partially age-selective in-migration. The research results reveal many measures and strategies which have been developed and employed by the different actor groups when faced with tangible problems. However, they have not been planned with a long term perspective. The availability of economic and social resources (human resources and investment funds on the part of administrations, financial resources and social networks on the part of the older population) is the chief differentiating and often limiting factor for the success of these measures and strategies. This article comes to the conclusion that adaptation and coping will remain processes for safeguarding the quality of life in shrinking ageing regions for the longer term. In addition to the targeted effects, the unintended consequences of today’s adaptation strategies will also influence the level and the design of future public services.


Ageing; Decline in population; Local level; Adaptation; Coping; German Harz region

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