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Impact of ageing population 'exaggerated'

Published on 13 November 2013 02:00 PM

Population ageing isn't a ticking time bomb as some would suggest, according to researchers.

Jeroen Spijker and John MacInnes from the University of Edinburgh claim that the extent, speed, and effect of an ageing population have all been exaggerated.


We should therefore not assume that health and social care systems will be strained as a result of more people living longer.

Numbers of dependent older people have been falling

The duo point out that the standard indicator of population ageing - the old age dependency ratio (OADR) - does not take proper account of falling mortality.

They also stress that the numbers of dependent older people in the UK and other countries have actually been falling in recent years.

Population ageing is a concern in all developed countries around the world.

It has been suggested that this older group makes greater demands on social insurance, health, and welfare systems and have increasing morbidity and disability.

OADR is the standard indicator of population ageing, taking the number of people who have reached the state pension age and dividing it by the number of working age (16-64 years) adults to estimate the proportion of older people, relative to those who pay for them.

Rising life expectancy makes these older people healthier

It defines all people above the statutory pension age as dependent, regardless of their economic, social, or medical circumstances.

However, Spijker and MacInnes claim this overlooks the fact that rising life expectancy makes these older people healthier and fitter than their peers in earlier generations.

They therefore decided to calculate an alternative measure - the real elderly dependency ratio - based on the sum of men and women with a remaining life expectancy of up to 15 years, divided by the number of people in employment, irrespective of age.

When this measure was applied to the UK, it showed that old age dependency has fallen by one third over the past 40 years - and is likely to stabilise close to its current level.

The measure also shows similar falls in many other countries.

We need politicians 'to take a more balanced view'

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK says: ‘We agree that the dominant narrative among policymakers about ageing is far too gloomy, because it fails to factor in the impact of current and future improvements in healthcare, among many other positive factors.

‘It's good that there is growing awareness that we live in an ageing society, but we need politicians and commentators to take a more balanced view and acknowledge that previous generations would envy our longer lives as a great gift.'

Copyright Press Association 2013

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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