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.

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