As number of centenarians grows, state aims to prepare today's children for aging population

The elderly have been making the headlines here in the Czech Republic, with reports that the number of Czech centenarians - that is people aged 100 or older - has risen dramatically in the last decade. What's more, the population in general is set to get a lot older in next few generations, and the state wants to begin preparing Czechs now for a greyer future.

While there were only a few dozen centenarians in the Czech Republic ten years ago, that number has risen to around 350, according to figures just released by the Ministry of Social Affairs. It's not quite Japan, which has 25,000 citizens over 100 years of age, but it does represent a marked increase.

As elsewhere, women predominate among the oldest of the old - almost 300 of the Czech Republic's 353 centenarians are female. The oldest Czech is a woman who this year celebrated her 108th birthday; she's been drawing a pension since 1962.

The fact that only 60 of the country's citizens of 100-plus are men was described as alarming by Jiri Hoidekr of the social security authority. He was speaking just days after the death of the oldest living Czech man; he had lived to a very ripe and very old 106.

The Czech Republic has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and while the rise in the number of centenarians is interesting the ageing of the population in general is much more of a serious issue. There are predictions that by 2050 a full third of Czechs will be 65 or older.

As well as the huge issue of who will pay their pensions - which the political parties have yet to address at all adequately - the greying of the population will have a great impact on the shape of society. And the Social Affairs Ministry says Czechs need to begin preparing for this change in advance - in fact, starting very soon.

The plan is to teach elementary school children about the aging process and elderly people, something which has been neglected in the past, says the Ministry. Another plan is to encourage young Czechs to help provide care for seniors, in order to foster "intergenerational ties".

This suggestion could be well timed, with reports that the younger generation are losing the traditional respect for the elderly which impresses so many visitors. One study quoted in Tuesday's press suggests 20 percent of the over 70s have suffered verbal abuse, while a third of respondents said the participation of old folks in politics should be "limited", that despite the fact their numbers are growing.