Tag Archives: demography

Three Score Years and Twenty – An Analysis of the Ageing UK Population.

I just listened to this useful Radio 4 Analysis podcast – Three Score Years and Twenty on Ageing Britain. It’s of clear relevance to the demography topic within the SCLY1 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 problem which this increasing ‘familial-individualism’ creates for people in their 80s is one of increasing isolation and lonileness 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 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


A crisis of overpopulation?

populationThe world population recently topped 7 billion, and current UN predictions are that it will reach 9 billion by 2050, but does this matter – are we facing a crisis of overpopulation in which population growth will outstrip the limits of the planet to provide for us?

The original and most famous exposition of this thesis was by Thomas Malthus in 1798 whose basic idea was that population increased exponentially but food supply only increased incrementaly, so population growth would always outstrip the ability of the population to feed itself. Malthus predicted that the world would run out of food by 1890.

Malthus of course failed to foresee the incredible increases in agricultural yields that were to be brought about by the green revolution after ww2 (nicely summarised in the video below) which trebled food production per acre in countries such as Mexico and India – allowing them to sustain increased population

However, such population increase lead Malthusianism to be revisited by Paul Erlich in his 1968 population bomb, who predicted that high birth rates would lead to mass famine and reduce the population by at least 1/5th by the end of the 1970s.

Again with hindsite Erlich also got it wrong, and clearly not because of any global reduction in population, which has grown significantly since Erlich’s day, so could it be that the Malthusian doomsayers are just wrong?

Criticisms of Malthusianism – Overpopulation is a myth (.com)

This web site offers (at time of writing) six video-based criticisms of the Malthusian view point – Some of these include

  1. Going back to the graph at the top of this post, the average projection has it that the world population will peak at 9 billion in about 40 years from now and then start to go back down, although the overpopulation web site draws on even more optimistic figures of an 8 billion peak in 30 years.
  2. Many developed countries, most noteably Japan, have very low fertility rates, far below the level necessary to replace the population. These countries face an increasing depenendency ratio as the number of people retiring relative to those of working age increases.
  3. Overpopulation proponents suggest that there is not enough food for everyone, however, the FAO and WFP point out that there is enough food for everyone, but several hundreds of millions of people lack access to that food because of such things as poverty, conflict and poor agricultural infrastructure – In other words it’s not too many people that’s the problem, it’s the economic and political systems that block access to available food.

There are more criticisms of Malthusianism on the web site, with data and links!


Limits to growth – How many people can the earth support?

This video, hosted by David Attenborough,  lies somewhere between Malthusianism and the ‘overpopulation myth busters’ – It starts off with the point that we are approaching the Earth’s limits to growth, while holding open the possibility that we can prevent meltdown, but only if we make a concerted global effort…..

Some of the evidence being cited for us reaching the Limits to Growth include…

  • Nasa’s satellite imagery showing us that we are already using nearly all of the earth’s surface to provide for our needs
  • The fact that we appear to have reached the technological limits for increasing food yields per acre
  • Extensive land grabs (mostly in Africa) suggest that developed countries are concerned about their ability to feed their populations in the future
  • The reduction in capacity many of the earth’s water sources

Attenborough suggests three solutions to our reaching the limits to growth

Firstly we can rely on technological advances to produce more with less land

Secondly we could reduce our consumption

Thirdly we can control population growth in the developing world

None of these are necessarily going to happen of course, and I think I might deal with these in  a seperate post…