As Britain prepares to go to the polls for the EU referendum, immigration is a key issue. Those worried by the adverse economic effects of an ageing population sometimes claim that immigration can offset these effects by increasing the proportion of working-age people. It is a claim challenged by a new study of long-term trends by Michael Murphy published in the journal Population Studies.
The well-being of the elderly in any society is important as improved health facilities and policies have made the elderly population among one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the world today. In India the elderly population has grown from about 19.8 million in 1951 to 100 million in 2011 and the projections indicate that the number of persons older than sixty years is likely to increase to 198 million by 2030 (Government of India, 2008; ET, 2012). The growing share of the elderly population may have severe consequence in a country like India where the credit and financial markets are not adequately developed.
The age group above retirement age is the fastest growing age group in many countries. As most diseases and disorders occur in higher ages, this implies that there will be higher demands on the health care and pension systems. Even though many have argued that societies are facing an economic and demographic challenge, it is arguably also a great success; more people reach old age and live longer. But some groups of individuals tend to be healthier than others.
As the developed world hunkers down for the long winter of ageing it may be instructive to reflect on just how we arrived at this particular juncture of world population history and how the recent past is likely to mark future developments in this process. In many ways, the twentieth century was unique with respect to the timing and intensity of population trends. During this period, there was a very clear boom and bust cycle of fertility. The starting point for this great cycle can be found during the 1930s when in many, but not all, developed nations fertility was already quite low, often near or even below levels considered necessary for population replacement (Total Fertility Rate (TFR) = 2.1).
Tonight at Oxford’s Ashmolean museum, the University’s Social Science Division is taking over! There will be a series of events, workshops, demonstration and talks as well as dance, music and other performances. The event is running from 7pm to 10:30pm.
Marie Louise Schultz-Nielsen and Torben Tranæs have published a paper (Working Paper nr. 30, Rockwool Foundation, Research Unit, Copenhagen, 2014) investigating immigration as a solution to the challenges that an aging population represents. The paper is in Danish, but I think their research deserves a wider audience. Their investigation poses the question of whether immigration from different parts of the world can contribute to the financial challenges that an aging population represents. Secondly, the paper investigates how the annual net contribution changes over time, and what the average contribution is from ethnic Danes, Western immigrants and non-Western immigrants . That way, the different sizes of the groups and the changes of net contribution over the life span are taken into account. Finally, it investigates how changes in immigration affect the public finances.
Population ageing is a major concern in most European countries. With an ageing population, people at employable age will have to provide for an increasing number of pensioners. Demands for health and care services will also increase, as older people typically have higher needs for such services. Such concerns are high on the political agenda in most European countries. What is often overlooked, however, is that older users increasingly compete with younger users over the same limited care resources. This is certainly the case in Norway, where responsibilities for care services have gradually been transferred to the local level over the past 20 years, with no national guidelines on the distribution of resources between groups of users.
Declining marriage rates in many societies, in particular among the poorer and disadvantaged population groups, has sparked growing interest. Current debates are often focused on whether the ‘failure’ to marry signifies deficiencies on the part of the individual, or insufficient societal resourcing of some groups to make them ‘marriageable’. Concerns are frequently expressed about old age being a grim prospect for the never-married, due to the lack of care and support from a spouse and adult children. In aggregate, such views and debates convey a negative picture of singlehood, and of unmarried people who are seen as especially problematic when they become old.
Population ageing, together with low economic growth, has put pressure on the financial equilibrium of many pension systems in Europe and other industrialized countries, forcing governments to increase the average retirement age. An extended working life – combined with the rapid technological progress taking place in many sectors – is likely to render the skills older workers attained at school obsolete. In this context, lifelong investment in training is a key strategy for increasing, or at least limiting the decline in, the productivity of older workers.
Humanity is approaching an historic transformation. Towards the end of the 21st century the world’s population will very possibly begin to decline in number, and East Asia is in the vanguard (Figure 1). This is being achieved in nearly all countries not via coercion, but voluntarily, as female emancipation and education, urbanisation, and economic development spread across the world, lifestyles and life choices change, and medical knowledge and technologies advance.