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Outline two consequences of the ageing population for British society

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.

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The Consequences of an Ageing Population

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What are the consequences of an ageing population? This is a summary of a recent Radio 4 Analysis podcast – Three Score Years and Twenty on Ageing Britain. It’s of clear relevance to the demography topic within the 7191 families and households module….

Here are some of the main points.

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 their family, miles away from their own parents. Grandparents today of course help out with childcare occassionaly and pay regular visits, but they are generally not taking a day to day role in childcare, and finances are kept seperate.  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.

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Low ‘healthy life expectancy’ is more of a problem for the most deprived

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 demntia 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 typicaly family could provide (depsite 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.

Worringly, 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 renogiation at the level of the family so that granparents 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.

Here’s the full transcript of the show –analysis-ageing

Further Reading 

The Future of an Ageing Population (Government Report)

Underfunded and Overstretched – The Crisis in Care for the Elderly – 2016 Guardian article

Related Posts 

The question of why we have an ageing population is explained by the combination of the long term decrease in both the birth rates and death rates dealt with in these two posts: Explaining changes to the birth rate, and Explaining the long term decline of the death rate.

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 mind map on The consequences of an ageing population offers you an easier summary or the topic compared to this post.

 

Other Summaries of Thinking Allowed Podcasts 

Thinking Allowed really is an excellent resource for A level Sociology – here are two other summaries of recent Thinking Allowed Podcasts…

Why do White Working Class Kids Lack Aspiration?

Sociological Research on Gangs

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The reasons for and consequences of changing patterns of migration

Trends in migration

  • 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

To follow!

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Explaining changes to the birth rate

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Trends in the Birth Rate and Total Fertility Rate

  • Between 1901 to 2010 the birth rate declined from 29 per thousand to 13 per thousand
  • The Total Fertility Rate has also seen a general decline in the last century, from a peak of almost 3 babies per woman in the 1960s to a low point of about 1.6 babies per woman in 2001.
  • However, the last 15 years have witnessed an increase back up to 2 babies per woman.

Explaining the long term decline in the birth rate

Economic Changes

Globally, the general trend is that the wealthier country, the lower the birth rate. It would seem that economic growth and rising living standards mean adults have fewer children. Part of the reason for this is that higher living standards mean better quality housing, better nutrition, better education and better medical care – all of which reduce the infant mortality rate, meaning that parents have fewer ‘replacement babies’ to make up for those who die before their first birthday.

A second factor here is related to Functionalism – as Functionalists see it, as societys evolve and become more complex, other institutions take over key functions of the family – men go into wage labour, which gets taxed, which then translates into schools and hospitals and pensions – the last century in the UK has seen the emergence of all of these institutions – people no longer need children to look after them in their old age, or to work the fields, other institutions do this, so people have fewer children.

A final way economic factors can reduce the birth rate are that people are so busy working they don’t have time to start families – which is the case in contemporary Japan.

A criticism of economic arguments is that they are deterministic, people don’t just react to economic changes like robots, and they also appear a little ‘cold’ – It implies that people only have children for selfish, economic reasons.

Technologcial Changes

The development of contraceptive technologies in the 1960s – Namely the contraceptive pill – gave rise to what Athony Giddens calls ‘plastic sexuality’ = Sex becomes detached from reproduction. Also, importantly, The Pill gave women control of their reproduction and they could choose when to have children. There is no direct correlation between the invention of The Pill and the decline in the fertility rate – in fact the Baby Boom of the 1960s came immediately after The Pill’s invention, and most women clearly still choose to have babies, but this technological change does explain why women have babies later in life and have fewer children.

Other technological innovations which have led to people having babies later in life are IVF and the freezing of eggs – together these technologie mean women can delay having children into their 40s, extending the ‘natural’ period of fertility much later than is traditionally the case.

An attendant analysis point here is that for IVF to be available for all women, it requires the state to fund it, otherwise this would be prohibitively expensive for couples with low incomes, so for this technological factor to have an impact, it needs to combine with political rights and a wealthy state.

Changes in the Role of Women

Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck both regard this as the most important factor explaining the decline in the birth rate. Because women how have formal legal equality with men, and increased educational opportunities (girls are now outperforming boys at school), women now make up half the work force, and this has led to changes in attitudes to family life – Career now comes first for many women, and childbearing is delayed by an average of ten years compared to in the 1950s. Women now typically have their first babies in their 30s, not their 20s and up 1/4 women are expected to remain childless.

As an evaluation point here – it’s important not to exaggerate the advances women have made, when the children come along, it is still predominantly women who do the majority of childcare and housework and suffer the consequences in terms of their career.

Postmodernisation

All of the above changes are part of the broader process of posmodernisation – The decline of traditional norms and values such as those associated with religions mean that contraception is no longer viewed in a stigmatised way and declining birth rates also reflect individualisation – the fact that we put our own needs first and it is acceptable to choose not to have children.

A criticism of Postmodernism is that many people simply don’t choose to have children. Many people are forced into living an uncertain, unpredictable life where having children may not be a possibility or simply not be rational or affordable.

Changes in the position of children

Until the late 19th century children were an asset to their parents because they could be sent out to work. Today, laws protect children from working and dictate that they should spend 18 years in education, and thus children have become an economic liability – they are a net drain on parents’ income. This puts people off having children.

People also have fewer children because we now live in a ‘child centred society’ – It is expected that children be the centre of family life, and parents are expected to spend more money (£250K is the average cost) and more time than ever engaged with their children – it is easier to do this with fewer children.

Explaining the recent increase in the birth rates.

Three factors which could explain this include…

  • Increasing immigration – immigrant mothers have more children (accounts for approx. 20% of the increase)
  • Reduction in child poverty – New Labour increased welfare payments to poorer families – easier to have children
  • Advances in birth technologies – increase in IVF – more women in their 40s having babies

Related Posts

Explaining the long term decline of the death rate