- Atlas des séniors et du grand âge en France. 100 cartes et graphiques pour analyser et comprendre by Mickaël Blanchet
Producing an atlas is always a complex and arduous undertaking. In order for an atlas to reveal strong geographic disparities, it must be based on data robust enough to meet the needs of comparative analysis and fine enough to account for local phenomena. The author of this work, Mickaël Blanchet, has a PhD in social geography; his 2011 thesis is on retirement policy in the Pays de la Loire region of France.
The format of Blanchet's atlas is extremely practical. Its approximately 100 colour maps and figures cover 37 topics grouped into five parts, entitled respectively: "Demographic developments, geographic contrasts"; "To what degree are older people implicated?"; "Support for older persons by geographical region"; "Between coveted public resources and an economic boom in gerontology-focused initiatives"; and "Regional ill-adaptations, dynamics, and perspectives".
Each topic is analysed by way of two facing pages, one with text and the other with visuals, many of which are maps based on an urban area zoning system that distinguishes major conurbations, peri-urban municipalities, mid-sized and small conurbations, and rural municipalities. Each section has a brief introduction and conclusion. In his general conclusion, Blanchet calls upon designers of old-age support policy to make greater use of France's département level of government, to adopt a longitudinal approach to old age that takes into account individual trajectories, and to develop an integrated regional network that will implicate older individuals themselves and their families to a greater degree than at present. This is followed by an extensive bibliography organized thematically; most of the references listed are books and articles published after 2000.
Though Blanchet does not consider the age criterion useful for apprehending the multiple realities of ageing, he nonetheless uses the term "over-65s" (in fact, 65 or over). This atlas of seniors in France helps deconstruct some long-standing stereotypes about old age. It also stresses how unwieldy and inadequate regional gerontology policy can be. In light of the law passed in December 2015 on adapting French society to the realities of its ageing population, Blanchet's atlas should be near compulsory reading for local civil servants and the various actors of the health and social welfare sectors. Hopefully it will also find many readers outside that circumscribed audience.
It is regrettable that the author chose to structure his atlas in five sections, as this renders some of his observations and analyses somewhat less effective than they might be. That comment holds in particular for the third and most substantial section, on public accompaniment of older people at the regional level. It would have been helpful to flesh out this section with information from the others, and the introduction to it might have gone into greater detail on French population trends by territory (numbers; structure by sex, age, and [End Page 810] various statuses) and spatial disparities in ageing and living conditions for seniors. Finally, a more forward-looking conclusion, clarifying the issues, presenting the main areas of tension, and formulating a few recommendations, would have further enriched the work and enlightened debate. [End Page 811]