Britain’s Ageing Population – Is it a Problem?

This post provides an overview of statistics on Britain’s ageing population before looking at some of the problems associated with this trend, including the increased strain on health services and increased burden on young people. It also asks whether the ageing population is actually a problem or not?

Statistics on the Ageing Population

  • In 1998, around one in six people were 65 years and over (15.9% of the population )
  • In 2020, approximately in five people are aged 65 years and over
  • By 2038 it is protected that around one in every four people (24.2%) will be aged 65 and over.

Population Pyramids

These are a nice way of demonstrating Britain’s changing population structure:

The UK’s Age Structure in 1998

The UK’s Age Structure in 2038 (projected)

If you look at the above two population pyramids, you can clearly see a ‘bulge’ around age 30 in 1998, which has disappeared in 2038.

The age structure in 2038 is a much more even, and less like a pyramid.

This is simply a result of people getting older and fewer babies being born (the declining birth rate over the last few decades).

The Dependency Ratio

The Dependency Ratio refers to the number of people of working age in relation to the number of people of non-working age. The later group includes children and people of pensionable age, in 2020 that means everone aged over 65. In the 1990s there used to be

The Office for National Statistics uses this measurement, which is the number of people of pensionable age in relation to those aged 16-64 (working age) per thousand.

The old age dependency ratio was 300:1000 (3.3 workers to each pensioner) in 1992 , it is project to increase to 400:1000 (2.5 workers to each pensioner) by 2067.

The problem of the increasing dependency ratio

Every pensioner in the UK is entitled to a state pension and a range of other ‘free at the point of use’ public services, mainly health-care. These are paid for by taxes on the income of current workers, and the fewer workers to pensioners, the more each worker has to be taxed to pay for pensions and services used by pensioners.

All other things remaining equal, taxes are going to have to increase by 25% based on the above change in the dependency ratio.

One possible way of combating this problem is for more people of pensionable age to work, and in fact this is already happening – the economic activity levels of the over 65s has doubled in the last few decades:

An increased strain on public services

Increasing numbers of pensioners puts a strain on the NHS because pensioners use health services more than younger people.

With increasing numbers of pensioners ‘sucking money’ out of the welfare state’ there is less left for everything else – services for the young are being cut to compensate

This is because healthy life expectancy is not keeping pace with life-expectancy, and there are increasing numbers of people in their 80s who spend several years with chronic physical conditions such as arthritis, and also dementia both of which require intensive social care.

While the ageing population presents problems, there are solutions – such as improving education about how to stay healthy in later life, changing ideas about working so that people are able to work for longer could be part of the solution.

Problems for younger people

People in their 50s have become a ‘sandwich generation’ – they are now caught between having to provide care for their elderly parents, while still having their 20 something children living at home.

However, things are even worse for today’s teenagers – the retirement aged has now been pushed back to 68 – young people today are going to have to retire much later than their current grandparents.

While the ageing population presents problems, there are solutions – such as improving education about how to stay healthy in later life, changing ideas about working so that people are able to work for longer could be part of the solution.

Arguments against the view that the ageing population is a problem

We ned to be careful not to exaggerate the extend to which old people are a ‘burden’ on society, these often come from stereotypical ways of thinking about age. Not all old people are incapable or in poor health! Most older people live healthy lives into old age and increasing numbers of the over 65s are economically active.

Effective long-term planning and forward-looking social policy changes today can help reduce some of the problems associated with the dependency ratio, such as raising the state pension age.

Marxists think attitudes to old age are influenced by capitalism. Marxist suggest that age groups are defined by the capitalist system. For example, adults are people of working age, and the elderly are told old to work. Philipson (1982) capitalism views the elderly as burden on society. This is because their working life has ended, and they usually have less spending power. Therefore, old age become stigmatised in society.

Postmodernists argue attitudes to age are changing. Magazine, advertisers and the media generally often portray “youthful” old age – old people enjoying holidays, sport, wearing fashionable clothes etc. People can also mask their old age through plastic surgery. The strict identity of old age no longer exists.

Sources

Related posts

The aging population is a consequence of the declining death rate, and the increasing dependency ratio is a consequence of this plus the declining birth rate. Hence these two posts might be worth reviewing:

For some extension work, you might like this: The consequences of an ageing population – summary of a Thinking Allowed Podcast from 2015 which focuses on the challenges of a future in which increasing numbers of people will be aged over 70.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which an ageing population may affect family structures.

My attempt at a model 10/10 answer for this A-level sociology exam question (families and households topic)

This is the 10 mark question in the crime and deviance section of the AQA’s 2016 Specimen A-level sociology paper 2: Topics in Sociology, section A: Families and Households option.

In this post I consider a ‘lower middle mark band’ student response (4/10 marks) to this question and the examiner commentary (both are provided by the AQA here) before considering what a ‘top band’ answer might look like.

The Question (with the item!)

analyse-using-item-question-10-marks

The Mark Scheme:

AQA-sociology-mark-scheme

Student Response:

sociology example student response

Examiner Commentary: (4/10 marks)

This is taken straight from the AQA’s own specimen (2016) material. NB I think the commentary actually misses out the most significant thing the candidate does not do, see below for my commentary on the commentary… 

What the candidate does well

  • Two reasonable suggestions are offered
  • There is no problem that they are “opposites” in that both situations may occur in different families.
  • The response provides a competent explanation of each change, explaining how and why older people may impact on female members of the generation beneath them (unfortunately, this is not what the question has asked for).

What the candidate does not do well

  • The response fails to fully answer the question because it does not explicitly connect the change in the position of women to family structures – implicit links to roles are as far as the response gets.
  • This answer does not have a strong knowledge base and concepts are limited
  • The second paragraph could do more to explain how/why the ageing population will lead to more grandparents who are able to provide the suggested role.
  • Both knowledge and application to family structures could be much stronger in this response however there is enough material of partial relevance to access the middle band.
  • This answer is a little too brief, given that around 15 minutes of an examination should be allocated to a 10 mark question.

How you might improve on this response to move up to the top band….

This is my input:

NB -THE POINTS MADE DO NOT SEEM TO COME EXPLICITLY FROM THE ITEM…. IF THE CANDIDATE WAS USING THE ITEM, THEY WOULD HAVE ONE POINT ABOUT ‘INCREASING LIFE EXPECTANCY’ AND ONE POINT ABOUT ‘DECLINING BIRTH RATES’ AND THEN LINK THESE TO CHANGING FAMILY STRUCTURES.

TO MY MIND THE RESPONSE ABOVE IS BASICALLY ‘THE MIDDLE BITS’ – WHAT’S MISSING IS CLEAR REFERENCE TO THE ITEM (THE BEGINNING BITS OF BOTH POINTS) AND ESPECIALLY THE END BITS, ON FAMILY STRUCTURE!

Anyway, if you’d like to submit an improved answer in the comments which takes on board the above feedback, I might even mark it!

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  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
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Japan’s Declining and Ageing Population

Last year Japan’s population declined by 300, 000, to 126 million, and and its population is predicted to decline to 87 million by 2040.

Japan also has an ‘ageing population’ – it is already one of the world’s oldest nations, which a median age of 46, and its predicted that by 2040 there will be three senior citizens for every child under 15, the opposite of the situation in 1975.

ageing population sociology

ageing population Japan

This is an interesting case study relevant to the ‘ageing population‘ topic within A-level sociology’s families and household’s option (AQA 7192/2).

Why is this happening?

Excluding Monaco, Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world – 83.7, and a very low fertility rate of 1.45. However, these figures are not too dissimilar from some European countries, so what really explains Japan’s declining population is it low immigration rate – only 1.8% of Japanese are foreign, compared to 8.6% in the UK for example!

What will the consequences be:

Nicholas Eberstadt argues that we already seeing some of the consequences:

  • Labour shortages, especially in care work, hospitality, construction and agriculture.
  • 400 school closures a year.
  • The emergence of ‘ghost towns’ as the population decreases
  • Increased burden on elderly welfare – by 2060 36% of its population will be 65 or older.

Eberstadt suggests that Japan’s future has only been imagined in Science Fiction (perhaps Kim Stanley Robinson can offer some help?).

Why is the Fertility Rate so Low?

It’s basically a combination of two factors:

  • Economic problems – 50% of the population are in precarious jobs, and economic insecurity is a key reason for not having children. Also, if couples were in a position to have children childcare is too expensive for both partners to remain in work, so this may scupper the desires of even those in permanent jobs!
  • Traditional gender values remain intact – Japan is the 114th most gender unequal country in the world – traditional and patriarchal values remain in-tact – women don’t want children out of wedlock or with men with no economic prospects – which is about half of all men in Japan!

Why is Migration so Low?

Japan is geographically remote and culturally homogeneous. Japan has long discouraged immigration – they see it as a threat to Japans’s culture and low crime rate – in fact they point to migration across Europe as an example of its negative impacts.

How is the government going to tackle the crisis?

There are a range of measures…

  • Government sponsored ‘speed dating’ services.
  • By providing longer maternity leave and childcare
  • To offset the shrinking labour force through a ‘robot revolution’.

Is there an Upside?

Well, there’s more land per head, and because Japan is the first to transition into what will likely become a global trend, it’s an opportunity for it to become a world leader in technologies that can assist an ageing population.

Sources:

Adapted from The Week 2nd December 2017.

The ‘Postmodern’ Tech Companies Embarking on ‘Modernist’ Projects

Technology Transnationals such as Apple, Google and Facebook have effectively embedded themselves into the lifeworlds of billions of people the world over through weaving their products and services into the fabric of daily life.

While in many ways these tech firms are quintessentially postmodern, there are some ways in which they seem to harken back to the modernist era.

Firstly, some of these tech giants are employing top architects to build massive buildings for them, spectacular symbols of their immense global power. While the design of these buildings is ‘obviously’ (?) postmodern, personally I think the sheer scale, cost, and the ultimate profitability-function of them  screams ‘modernism’.

The building that commands the most attention is the Apple/ Foster circle – so big that it’s said to be visible from space. It’s built on 150 acres, and is designed to cater for 12 000 workers. It’s something like a permanently landed space ship with a garden area in the middle.

Inside this building, you’ll discover a world of whiteness, greenery and silver, with a 100 000 square foot cinema, a cafe that can serve 4000 at once, which has sliding class doors 4 stories high, each weighing nearly 200 tonnes.

There is also a 1000 seat Steve Jobs cinema, surmounted by a 165 ft wide glass cylinder, for Apple’s famous product launches, and with a landscape designed to emulate a national park.

The doorways have perfectly flat thresholds because, according to a construction manager reported by Reuters, ‘if engineers had to adjust their gait when entering the building, they risked distraction from their work’.

Writing in the Financial Times, George Hammond also suggests that Facebook is ‘going back to the 19th Century’, more evidence of the modernist turn these postmodern companies are taking….

Facebook us trying to combat soaring rents in Silicon Valley by building new houses, which marks a revival of the 19th century concept of the ‘company town’: its new Willow Campus includes plans for 15% of the 15000 houses to be made available at below market rates, for example.

Hammond is sceptical about whether such a scheme will work, noting that there was a mixed record of success in the 19th century – Cadbury’s Bournville in Birmingham dramatically improved conditions for workers, but Henry Ford’s Fordlandia in Brazil was a spectacular failure.

Whether these massive-buildings and ‘city projects’ are successful or not, they certainly demonstrate the huge power these companies have alter the physical environment in which we work and live in addition to their power to influence the way we access information.

What next for Corporate Power? 

Sources:

The Week (5 August 2017 and 29 July 2017)