You can clearly see the slow down in the increase in Life Expectancy for males and females in England in the two graphs below.
For both males and females the graph above shows a clear increasing trend from 2001 to around 2011, and then a much flatter trend from 2011 to 2017.
The above two graphs also highlight the clear correlation between deprivation and life expectancy, with the least deprived (or wealthiest) quintile of males and females enjoying around 6-8 more years of life than the most deprived (or poorest) quintile.
You can’t see it from the above graphs, but the poorest decile (the poorest tenth) of women actually experienced a slight decline in life expectancy in recent years. That is to say the very poorest women now die younger.
Declining healthy life expectancy
The report also highlights a small decline in healthy life expectancy, which I personally think is important to consider, given that it’s much more desirable to live a longer life in good health, compared to a longer life in poor health!
How do we explain the stalling of life expectancy?
The Marmot report says that an increase in deaths from winter illnesses such as flu in recent years can only explain about 20% of the decline in life expectancy.
The report also highlights funding cuts to health and social services as something which has ‘undermined the ability of local authorities to improve the social determinants of health’.
NB – note that the wording of the above is very careful, the report doesn’t say that funding cuts have caused a decrease in the rate of improvement of life expectancy, probably because the report doesn’t have sufficient data to infer a significant enough correlation between funding cuts and life expectancy trends.
So while the trends may be objective, we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions about why life expectancy is stalling!
One thing we can say is that inequality clearly hasn’t improved in the last 20 years, if we use differences as life expectancy as an indicator of this!
The decline is driven by the increasing death rates in young Americans, aged between 25 to 64, which the main causes of death being ‘deaths of despair’ – alcohol and drug related deaths, suicides, obesity and drugs linked to chronic stress.
Interestingly the high death rates cut across class, gender and ethnic lines, and all regions of the United States.
Why does America have such a high mid-life mortality rate?
America has one of the highest mid-life mortality rates of high income countries, despite spending more on heath care than most other countries.
The statistics tell a depressing tale – mortality from drug overdoses has increased by around 400% since the late 1990s and Obesity rates have increased dramatically too – men now way on average 30 pounds more than they did 50 years ago.
In short, the causes of high mid life mortality are that people are just making destructive life choices and choosing not to take care of themselves, with increasing numbers of people self-medicating with alcohol, drugs (both illegal and legal) and junk-food.
There are number of possible deeper economic and social explanations as to the increasing mid-life death rate in America – we could apply Strain Theory – it could be that the people making the above choices are experiencing a sense of ‘anomie’ – these are people just working to survive with no obvious chance of ‘succeeding’.
It could also be that America is one of the most unequal countries on earth – and while many struggle to survive, they see daily success stories on the media, which enhances the sense of relative deprivation and their own failure.
Or these people self-medicating may be successful in some ways – have successful careers, but they’ve sacrificed their families because of it, so these could be deaths due to to loneliness or social isolation.
Whatever the causes, I’m just glad I don’t live in the US!
Hungary’s Right Wing government recently announced a new social policy exempting women who have more than four children from income tax for life.
There are also other financial incentives designed to encourage families to have more children – such as loans of up to £27,000 which will be partially or fully written off if the couple go on to have two or three children.
The stated aim of the policy is to reverse the country’s population decline so that Hungary does not have to rely on migrant workers in the future.
The Prime Minister, Victor Orban stated that women having fewer and fewer children was a problem all over Western Europe, and that the solution tended to be to increasingly rely on immigrants in the future, to replace the ‘missing’ native children. Orban believes that Hungarians would rather have Hungarians working in the future rather than immigrants.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is an unusual example of a right wing (New Right) policy explicitly designed to encourage marriage and the more babies being born (it seems within nuclear families).
At the same time it is pro-nationalist and and anti-immigration, hence anti-globalisation.
I guess from a narrow minded ‘Hungary first’ Nationalist perspective if makes sense in a ‘defend our boarders’ sort of way.
Unfortunately in itself it’s going to do nothing to actually stem the flow of migrants to Europe from poorer non-European countries, and neither is it going to do anything to curb global population growth – surely from a globalist/ environmentalist perspective what we need is wealthier countries having fewer babies, and more migrants from areas where the birth rate is still high to fill jobs in developing countries in the future?
This is a great example of an unusual family policy, quite extreme in nature, and also a good example of how short-sited Nationalism is.
The documentary is hosted by the ever-reliable Richard Bilton, who seems to be the BBC’s go-to guy for these social injustice documentaries.
Teeside has the largest life expectancy gap in the country. Those in poorest boroughs of the region have a life expectancy of just 67, the same as Ethiopia. Those living just a couple of miles away in the wealthiest boroughs live until 85, 4 years above the national average.
This means that the life expectancy gap between the poorest and richest boroughs in Teeside is 18 years.
The inequalities are literally written on the gravestones, where in some graveyards, 60 years seems like a ‘good innings’
Richard Bilton points out early on that most babies in the U.K are born healthy, but a baby’s health is shaped by what comes next, and a crucial variable which influences health and life expectancy is wealth, or lack of it.
He also suggests more than once that leading an unhealthy life is not simply a matter of individuals making poor choices. Rather, being socialised into poverty restricts the kinds of choices people can make, and in extreme cases results in stress which seems to literally take 10 years off an individual’s life.
The first of the three emotionally charged case studies focuses on a 46-year-old male whose life is nearly over. He has fluid on the lungs, sciatica, and type 2 Diabetes, among other things, and is dependent on breathing apparatus.
There’s quite a lot of footage of his 4/5 kids musing about how he hasn’t got much time left…. And I guess that’s the ultimate negative consequence of his dying in his late 40s: a partner left to bring up 4 distraught kids on her own
His Illnesses are down to smoking and poor diet: people are four times more likely to smoke than those from wealthy areas.
The second case study focuses on a gran mother who is bringing up her daughters two children because she seems to be a hopeless crack addict. We see an interview with the drug-addict daughter who just appears to have given up the will to look after her kids. (Possibly because she knows her mother will do it?).
Drug deaths in Stockton have doubled in a decade and nationally they are substantially higher in the more deprived areas.
The grandmother attends a support group for grandparents who look after their grandkids because their children are drug addicts…. And we can see clearly how the stress she’s under is reducing her own life expectancy.
Finally, the documentary visits a middle-aged woman suffering from depression and anxiety who has made multiple (unsuccessful) suicide attempts. Suicides are twice as common in the poorest areas.
One of the problems here is that mental health services have been cut. There’s nowhere for her to go. If it were not for a voluntary support group, she’d probably be another early death statistic.
So how do we tackle low life expectancy?
This is a very short section towards the end of the documentary which visits a school in a deprived area. The headmistress of the Carmel Education Trust thinks she can turn things around. She doesn’t believe the poor-health life path of those in poverty is fixed.
She believes that therapies help kids to better at school, and if they do better at school, they get better jobs, and that seems to be the key to a healthier life…
NB the documentary doesn’t actually go into any depth about what these ‘therapies’ are. This section is very much tagged on the end of the gawp-fest.
Final critical appraisal of the documentary
What I like about the documentary is that it’s rooted in what you might call micro-statistics. It ‘digs down’ into the sub-regional variations in life expectancy in Teeside. It even distinguishes between life expectancy and health life expectancy.
However, the documentary spends too much time ‘gawping’ at the poor sick poor people rather than analysing the deeper structural causes of poverty related health problems.
There’s no real mention of the longer term historical downturn in the North East of the U.K. which highlights the high levels of unemployment, for example.
I’m also not entirely convinced by the (too brief) look at the solutions on offer. Therapeutic interventions in schools was offered up as the solution. Relying on the education sector yet again to sort out this social mess of extreme in equality in life expectancy just isn’t practical.
Having said that, if the mission of the documentary was to alter us to the extent of the problem and shock us, I think it did a reasonable job overall.
Possibly most shocking of all is that men in the poorest boroughs have a life expectancy of just 64: the average man doesn’t even make it to retirement age. And this isn’t the only region in the UK where this happens. In the very poorest regions, men work hard, pay their National Insurance, and get nothing back for it. There’s something not quite right about that!
Ultimately, I agree with the message the documentary puts out, even if it gets somewhat lost in the emotionalism of the three case studies: the reasons people die young are complex, but the most common reason is poverty – low income limits your choices. There is also no reason why anyone should be getting a chronic illness and dying in their 40s. All of the likely soon-to-be deaths in the documentary are entirely preventable!
Relevance to A-level sociology
This documentary offers some us some qualitative insights into the causes, but mainly the consequences of low life expectancy in the poorest regions of the United Kingdom and so should be relevant to the ‘ life expectancy and death rates‘ aspect of the families and households module.
It’s also quite a useful reminder of how we need qualitative data to give us the human story behind the statistics.
If you want to find out more about variations in life expectancy in the UK, you might like this interactive map as a starting point.
Consequence 1 – The ageing population may put a strain on public services
Increasing numbers of pensioners puts a strain on the NHS because pensioners use health services more than younger people
Furthermore, 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.
Consequence 2 – The ageing population puts more of a burden on the younger generation
An ageing population means the dependency ratio has increased – there are fewer working aged people around to support pensioners. The next two generations are bearing a disproportionate cost of the current ageing population.
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.
A couple of not very pleasant news-items which relate to the problems of the ‘ageing population’:
The U.K. is on the brink of a social care crisis according to The Independent (November 2016) – with local authorities saying they could face a £2.6 billion funding gap by 2020.
According to The Guardian (December 2016), this is because funding has been slashed by 10%; there has been a 25% reduction in the number of people receiving help, and a third of all care homes face bankruptcy after cuts in the fees paid by local authorities.
All of this of course means that elderly people receive a lower quality of care, either in care-homes, or through reduced numbers of home-visits, but Age UK (Sept 2015) further calculates that up to a million people who have difficulties with basic activities such as getting dressed get no help at all.
All of this suggests that the problems of the ageing population are very much real, and given the present government’s neoliberal ideology, seem likely to get worse.
Demography refers to the study of the causes and consequences of changes to the size and structure of a society’s population. There are generally three things which can change the size and structure of a population – birth rates, death rates and migration, and these three things make up the three major sub-topics.
As with marriage and divorce, we break this down into discussing the reasons for the changes and then consider the consequences. A final additional topic here is migration patterns, which we deal with separately.
7.1: Reasons for changes to the Birth Rate
7.2: Reasons for changes to the Death Rate
7.3: The consequences of an Ageing Population
7.4: The reasons for and consequences of changes to patterns of Migration
Key concepts, research studies and case studies you should be able to apply
Total fertility rate
Infant Mortality Rate
Child Mortality Rate
Healthy Life Expectancy
Possible exam style short answer questions
Suggest two reasons for the long term decline in birth rate (4)
Suggest changes in the role of women that may explain why they have fewer children (4)
Suggest three consequences of the decline in the birth rate (6)
Suggest three reasons for the long term decrease in the death rate (6)
Suggest three problems society may face as a result of an ageing population (6)
Suggest three ways in which the elderly might be represented in stereotypical ways (6)
Suggest three ways in which society might respond to the challenges of an ageing population (6)
Suggest three pull factors which might attract people to immigrate into a particular country (6)
Suggest two push factors which might explain patterns of migration (4)
Identify two changes in the patterns of child-bearing over the last thirty years (4)
Possible Essay Questions – You should plan these
Examine the reasons for, and the effects of, changes in family size over the past 100 years or so (24) (January 2012)
Using material from item B and elsewhere assess the view that an ageing Population creates problems for society (24) (June 2014)
Populations across Europe are getting older which can create social problems related to higher levels of poor health among older people and a greater financial and caring ‘burden’ on younger generations.
But careful social planning can help to overcome these challenges.
What are the consequences of an ageing population?
In 1850,half the population in England were dead before they reached 46. Now half the population in England are alive at 85; and 8 million people currently alive in the UK will make it to 100 years or more. And if we extrapolate that to Europe, we can say 127 million Europeans are going to live to 100.
Hans Rosling points out that: We reached the turning point five years ago when the number of children stopped growing in the world. We have 2 billion children. They will not increase. The increase of the world population from now on will be a fill up of adults.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt: The two biggest issues that we face as an ageing society are the sustainability of the NHS and the sustainability of the pension system; and within the NHS, I include the social care system as part of that.
The basic problem we have in Northern European countries is the generational tension between individualism and communal responsibility – Across the generations within a typical family we have become more individualistic and less collective/ communal:
People in their 80s (who grew up in the 1960s) are generally very individualistic – they have retired into property wealth and are unwilling to relinquish the independence this gives them. They have also socialised their children into being more independent: most people today in their 50s (the children of those who are in their 80s) have bought into this – The family norm is one of the typical 50 year old living an independent life with family, miles away from their own parents.
Grandparents today of course help out with childcare occasionally and pay regular visits, but they are generally not taking a day to day role in childcare, and finances are kept separate. This arrangement is mutual – People in their 80s don’t want to be burdens on their children, they want them to have the freedom to live their own lives – to be able to work and raise their children without having to care for them in their old age. (So I suppose you might call the 2000s the era of the individualised family).
(This is very different to what it used to be like in the UK, and what it is still like in many other parts of the world where grandparents live close by and are an integral part of family life, taking an active role in raising their grandchildren on a day to day basis. Various interviewees from less developed countries testify to this, and to the advantages of it.)
Within this context of increasing ‘familial-individualism‘ a number of problems of the ageing population are discussed:
Firstly, one of the main problems which this increasing ‘familial-individualism’ creates for people in their 80s is one of increasing isolation and loneliness as their friends and neighbours move away or die.
One proposed solution is for older people to be prepared to move into communal supported housing where there are shared leisure facilities, like many people do in Florida. However, people are quite set in their ways in the UK and so this is unlikely. A second solution, which some immigrants are choosing is to return to thier country of origin where there are more collectivist values, trading in a relatively wealthy life in the UK for less money and more community abroad.
A second problem is that 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 – which require intensive social care.
As with the first point above, this is more of a social problem when children do not see it as their duty to care for their elderly parents – It is extremely expensive to provide round the clock care for chronic conditions for several years, and this puts a strain on the NHS. Basically, the welfare state cannot cope with both pensions and chronic care.
On potential solution to the above is mentioned by Sally GREENGROSS: The Germans in some cases now export older people to Eastern European countries because they can’t afford – or they say they can’t – to provide all the services they need in Germany itself. Could this be the future of chronic elderly care in the UK – Exporting dementia patients to poorer countries?
However, the idea of care-homes themselves are not dismissed when it comes to end of life care – the consensus seems to be that the quality of care in UK elderly care homes is generally very good, and better than your typically family could provide (despite all the not so useful scare programmes in the media).
A third problem is for those in their 50s – with their parents still alive and ‘sucking money out of the welfare state’ there is less left for everything else – and this has been passed down to the youngest generation – As a result people in their 50s now face the prospect of their own children living at home for much longer and having to help them with tuition fees and mortgage financing, meaning that their own plans for retirement in their late-50s/ early 60s are looking less likely – In other words, the next two generations are bearing a disproportionate cost of the current ageing population.
Worryingly, there is relatively little being done about this in government circles – Yes, the state pension age has been raised, and measures have been taken to get people to bolster their own private pensions, but this might be too little to late, and it looks like little else is likely to be done – The issue of the ageing population and the cost of welfare for the elderly is not a vote-winner after all.
The programme concludes by pointing out that pensions and care homes are only part of the debate. What will also be needed to tackle the problems of the ageing population is a more age-integrated society, a possible renegotiation at the level of the family so that grandparents are more integrated on a day to day basis in family life (trading of child care for a level of elderly care) and also social level changes – to make work places and public places more accessible for the elderly who might be less physically able than those younger than them.
A related topic in the Global Development module is the question of whether ‘overpopulation’ is a problem – an informed view on this topic is that of Hans Rosling’s who argues that ‘overpopulation’ isn’t really a problem at all because of the rapid global decline in birth rates.
This post looks at the recent increase in net migration to the UK, and at some of the reasons for increasing immigration in particular, including push and pull factors. It also looks at some of the consequences of increasing migration and the relationship between globalisation and migration.
Recent Patterns of Migration to the UK
The Office for National Statistics Net migration was actually negative during the 1970s and early 1980s, turning positive but at a relatively low level during the 1980s and early 1990s. Since 1994, it has been positive every year and rose sharply after 1997.
During the 2000s, net migration increased further, partly as a result of immigration of citizens from the countries that have joined the EU since 2004. Since the mid 2000s, annual net migration has fluctuated between approximately 150,000 and 300,000.
The most recent figures show a stable level of net migration, at around 200 000 to 300 000 per year:
Why are people immigrating to the UK?
The most common reason for migrating to the UK is work. This has been the case historically, with the exception of 2009 to 2012, when formal study was the most common main reason for migration.
In the year ending June 2015, a total of 294,000 immigrated for work-related reasons. This is a statistically significant increase from the previous year when 241,000 people immigrated for work-related reasons. Of those immigrating for work-related reasons in the year ending June 2015, 64% (187,000) came with a definite job to go to and 36% (107,000) came to look for work.
There were increases in immigration for work among EU citizens and non-EU citizens. Provisional estimates from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) show that 58% (162,000) were EU citizens (excluding British citizens), which was not a statistically significant increase and 24% (67,000) were non-EU citizens, also not a statistically significant increase from the previous year. The majority of other sources also show that immigration for work has increased over the last year for both EU and non-EU citizens.
The second most common reason for immigrating to the UK was formal study. In the year ending June 2015, a total of 192,000 people immigrated to the UK for formal study. Provisional estimates from the IPS show that the majority (131,000 or 71%) were non-EU citizens while 47,000 (24%) were EU citizens (excluding British citizens).
In the year ending June 2015, a total of 80,000 people arrived in the UK to accompany or join others,this remains relatively unchanged from 82,000 the previous year. Provisional estimates from the IPS show that the majority (45,000 or 58%) were non-EU citizens while 23,000 (30%) were EU citizens (excluding British citizens).
Where are people Emigrating from?
Refugees and Asylum Seekers Coming to the UK
Migrants to Britain hoping to gain citizenship must get 75 per cent or more on the Life in the UK test, which was recently revamped to incorporate “British values” (whatever they are).
The simplest level of analysis lies in explaining increasing migration to the UK in terms of push and pull factors:
Push Factors refer to problems which encourage a person to leave or emigrate from their country
Pull Factors refer to the real or perceived benefits of another country which attract people to it, or migrate towards it
You should be able to identify a number of push and pull factors from the material above note down at least two push and pull factors which repel people from other countries and attract them towards the UK.
Increasing globalisation is also fundamentally linked to globalisation, which is covered below.
The impact of migration on UK population structure and family life
There are three main effects:
Population size is increasing because net migration is increasing. If it were not for high net migration the UK population would be shrinking due to low birth rates, which on their own are below the fertility rate required to replace the population, which is 2.1. babies per woman.
The age structure changes. Immigration lowers that average age of the population both directly and indirectly. Directly because immigrants tend to be younger by 10 years than the British born population. Indirectly because Immigrant women have a higher fertility ratio – they have more babies than British born women.
The dependency ratio. Here immigration has three effects:
Immigrants are more likely to be of working age and this thus helps lower the dependency ratio.
However because they are younger, immigrants have more children and so the immigrants’ children add to the dependent population.
Finally, the longer a group is settled in the country, the closer their fertility rate comes to the national average, reducing their distinct impact on the dependency ratio.
Impacts on Public Services..
It is not possible to say with certainty what the implications of migration are for public services, and these impacts are likely to vary by area and depending on the type of public service. Migrants contribute to demand for public services. If foreign-born people in the UK used public services in the same way as demographically similar UK-born people, they would be expected to make less use of health and social care, but greater use of education. Migrants also contribute to financing and providing public services, and are over represented in the health care and social care work forces.
The Political Impact of Globalisation
States now have policies that seek to control immigration, absorb migrants into society and deal with increased ethnic and cultural diversity. More recently policies have also become linked to national security and anti-terrorism policies.
Assimilationism was the first state policy approach to immigration. It aimed to encourage immigrants to adopt the language, values and customs of the host culture, to become ‘like us’. However assimilationist policies have mainly failed because of the desire of many migrants to retain aspects of their ‘culture of origin’.
Multiculturalism accepts that migrants may wish to retain a separate cultural identity. One consequence of multicultural policy is the emergence of multicultural education in schools. However,Eriksen criticises such education as encouraging ‘shallow diversity’ – so we accept the surface elements of other cultures such as Samosas and Saris, but it fails to address issues surrounding ‘deep diversity’ such as arranged marriages.
Since September 11th many politicians have demanded a return to assimilationsim
Two further consequences include –
A More Multicultural Society
A divided working class and the white working class backlash.
Sources used to write the above include information from the ONS, British Red Cross and Rob Webb et al’s AS level Sociology book for the AQA.
From 1900 to the Second World War the largest immigrant group to the UK were Irish, mainly for economic reasons, followed by Eastern and Central Europian Jews, who were often fleeing from persecution.
Before the 1950s very few immigrants were non-white.
By contrast, during the 1950s, black immigrants from the Caribbean begain to arrice in the UK, followed during the 1960s and 70s by South-Asian immigratnts from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Since 2001 the main sources of immigration to the UK have been as follows:
15% UK citizens returning home-ownership
30% from the European Uniion (mainly Polish)
30% from New Commonwealth countries such as india
To what extent is migration responsible for UK population growth?
In short, it’s not all about increased immigration, it’s more complex!
For most of the 20th century, the growth of the UK population was the result of natural increase (more births than deaths). Until the 1980s the numbers of people emigrating was greater than the number of people immigrating
More recently, however, and especially since the turn of the Millennium (around the year 2000), there has been an increase in net migration, reaching a peak in 2011 of just over 250, 000. However, this recent increase in net migration is mainly due to the decrease in emmigration, rather than an increase in immigration.
Finally, there has been a mini baby boom in the UK since the year 2000 which is responsible for about a third of the increase in recent population growth. However,
Explaining the reasons for immigration to the UK
In order to explain immigration, you have to look at both push and pull factors.
Push factors are things llike escaping poverty, unemployment or persecution.
Pull factors include things like better opportunities for jobs, study, a higher shtandard of living, more political and religious freedom and joining relatives.
The main pull factors to the UK in recent years have been:
To study at university (and also resulting in short term immigration only)
For employment – NB historically this is the major reason, and yes this does explain Polish immigration to a large extent but it’s also worth noting that many early migrants from the Caribbean and South-Asia were recruited by the British government to fill labour shortages in the UK – so quite literally pulled to the UK.
To be with family members.
The most significant push factor has been to seek asylum from Persecution. The most significant recent wave of this type was when 30 000 East African Asians escaped racist persecution by Iid Amin in Uganda in the 1970s. More recently Britain has accepted thousands of refugees fleeing persecution from several countries.
Another significant push factor is the high levels of unemployment in some southern and eastern European countries – Spain for example has youth unemployment of around 50%.
Explaining the reasons for emmigration from the UK
Historically the UK has been a net exporter of people. Two of the main reasons for emmigration include:
To take advantage of better employment opportunities
To have a higher standard of living – To benefit from the lower cost of living abroad in retirement.
If we go back into long term history, we could even add ‘colonial conquest’ to list – much early emigration was linked to the British Empire’s desire to control resources in other parts of the world.
The consequences of immigration for the United Kingdom