Ageing and the economy
by Rebecca Pearce
Populations across the globe are growing increasingly older, developed and developing countries alike. This is due to a number of various reasons. This blog post will address these reasons, along with reasons for why an ageing population may cause issues within societies. It will also explore how these negative ideas surrounding the older generation are socially constructed.
First of all, we will look at why populations begin to age. The most basic explanation is that there has been a transition to lower birth rates and lower death rates (Timonen, 2008). The lower mortality rate has occurred for various reasons, such as better health in the womb, improved lifestyles, less dangerous jobs, better nutrition and improvements in medicine. From these reasons, we can see that ageing populations can be attributed majorly to the advances in technology and education, leading to less dangerous conditions and well-informed lifestyle choices – which have resulted in a 4-decade increase in life expectancy since 1840 (Timonen, 2008). Alongside this increase in life expectancy, there has been a decrease in fertility rates (even in developing countries), meaning the shape of the population pyramid becomes more of a pillar. Due to this, policymakers in many countries have attempted to create policies that encourage women to have more children, for example, France’s direct grants to families with two or more children, generous tax deductions for dependents, and four months of paid maternity leave financed through the national health-insurance system. These policies have successfully helped to increase the nation’s fertility rate from 1.74 to 2.08.
It is evident from these attempts to increase fertility rates that having an aged population has negative implications. One of the most important is that there may be a lower proportion of individuals to pay taxes, work and provide care for those who need it, as the proportion of the population which is dependent increases. This may lead to the age of retirement becoming higher in order to expand the workforce to support the growing number of people requiring welfare (pensions), meaning longer working – a prospect many people would not be happy about. As well as this, the average age of the working population will increase, meaning that the health issues common to the older generation will inevitably have an impact on work in general. Furthermore, longer life expectancies mean the amount of ill-health and disability within the population will increase, requiring a shift in the allocation of resources so that health services can to provide for everyone without a strain. However, this will mean other areas of infrastructure will lose out – which could have negative implications for a wide range of things. Another impact of an ageing population is the demand for housing, as people living longer means that a lot fewer homes are vacant. This increases the need for new housing, and particularly housing that is suitable for the older generation. These factors illustrate why an ageing population may be generally viewed as negative and a problem to be overcome, particularly in developing countries which lack infrastructure and therefore may be unable to deal with the population shift.
However, the social construction of age may also influence the negative views of old age as a problem. It was only in the 20th century that social classifications began to emerge surrounding the concept of age (Phillipson, 2013). Older people as a category can be viewed as a product of modernity and the growth of social welfare that came with it, thus creating retirement and welfare as natural supports to the end of human life (Phillipson, 2013). From this view of old age, it could be suggested that the common view held about aged populations is socially constructed around negative assumptions about the elderly. This is evident from various news articles that continuously portray the elderly in a bad light, for example calling them selfish, accusing them of taking things away from younger generations, and suggesting that their existence is causing economic troubles for younger generations. From these examples, it is clear why many people view an ageing population, or even the elderly, as something of a social problem.
Delaney, B., 2016. Baby boomers have already taken all the houses, now they’re coming for our brunch. The Guardian.
Malik, S., Barr, C., 2016. How Generation Y is paying the price for baby boomer pensions. The Guardian. (accessed 5.3.17).
Kolbert, E., n.d. Head Count – The New Yorker [WWW Document]. The New Yorker. (accessed 5.3.17).
Ota, S., 2015. Housing an Ageing Population (England). Research Briefings for Parliament.
Timonen, V. (2008). Demography 101: Why do Populations Age? In Ageing Societies: A Comparative Introduction. Open University Press.
Phillipson, C. (2013). Ch 5 The Social Construction of Ageing in Ageing. 1st ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.