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Since the early 1970s, European societies are faced with changes in population dynamics which are attributed to shifts in norms and values. These processes are summarised under the term of the “second demographic transition”. Low fertility rates and a higher life expectancy are the main drivers that lead to gradual shifts in age structures. Despite these developments, the population is increasing in the European Union. This is a result of higher immigration which affects the population structure in a spatially and temporally differentiated way. The second demographic transition - as it appears in the European Union - was identified as one of the most relevant issues for post-industrial societies and rural development in the 21st century. On a national level, population dynamics differ strongly compared to the regional and local level. The main regions benefiting from immigration are mainly the urban areas. Rural areas are highly influenced by changing population dynamics due to a lack of immigration and high emigration of younger cohorts (Muilu & Rusanen 2003). This leads to a decrease in population and demographic ageing in rural areas. Especially for shrinking regions, securing local supply is considered a critical issue. Questions of how to ensure local supply and health care services arise.
Especially local supply facilities, health care services and social care services are fulfilling basic needs of ageing societies in rural areas. As underlined by Moseley & Owen (2008) these services have an impact on space (Partzsch 1964) and can be identified as the main challenges in terms of ensuring local supply structures in the future. Current scientific debates concerning rural service provision are focussing on demographic, societal, political and economic influences. However, population dynamics seem to be of the highest importance and urgency due to shifts in demand and supply.
In this thesis, rural depopulation, demographic ageing and changes in local supply structures are analysed by using the examples of Northern Hesse (Germany) and South Savo (Finland). The conceptual aim of this thesis was the development of an analytical framework in order to capture the influence of the demographic transition in a systematic way. The framework also embraces changes in service demand and supply and helps to explore main fostering and hindering factors to service access. The conceptualisation of the framework was done by analysing the attitudes and reactions of the main parties and actors involved in rural areas. The main analytical categories of the framework are: acceptance, affordability, accessibility, accommodation, availability and information. Using the results of the first case study, the first factors for a concept of access were developed on an explorative way. Since it has the potential to help to gain a deeper understanding and has proven suitable for analysing service structures in rural areas.
The consequences of demographic ageing and societal changes and the related changing migration patterns could be analysed in different cultural and political frameworks. An integration of context specific demographic and social changes while analysing rural supply and adaptation processes was performed due to the need for analytical frameworks like Born (2009) underlined. The added value of this piece of work on the impacts of the demographic transition on rural services can be seen in three main dimensions. First, knowledge was gained about the different forms of the demographic transition and its influence and impacts in different rural localities. Moreover, the research contributes to a deeper understanding of individuals’ reactions and the reactions of the society as a whole towards the cutback of rural infrastructure. The findings about the strategies and opportunities of the different actor groups concerned contribute to debates on the importance of communication and cooperation between them (Born 2009). Second, using a synthetic approach to analyse the different rural services contributes to the theoretical discussion about conceptual frameworks (Ricketts & Goldsmith 2005; Goddard & Smith 2001). The access to rural services is limited by six main dimensions and their interplay. The investigated dimensions - acceptance, availability, affordability, accessibility, accommodation and information - show differences in relevance depending on the specific service and the geographic context. Third, efforts of spatial planning and regional development can be supported by using the developed framework for an organisational and structural configuration of the services and facilities to reach a match balancing out elderly people’s demand and supply of services in rural areas (Ricketts & Goldsmith 2005).