Friday, 20 May 2011

Louder than a bomb

There's a bomb waiting to go off. It will affect us here, in the UK, as well as most of the rest of the developed world. It's called the demographic timebomb.
In a previous post I spoke briefly about the changing age structure in Scotland, and the increasing proportion of older people in the population. The demographics of a population are any characteristics that can be measured - in this case age. The demographic timebomb is the term used for the increasingly top-heavy age structure of the UK population, and of many others in the developed world.

Historically in the UK, the largest group in the population was children, then young adults, and so on. With decreases in infant and child mortality, along with other social changes, people are tending to have fewer children.
At the other end of the age scale, advances in medicine mean that people are tending to live longer. Accidents and illnesses which would previously have been likely to cause death are now survivable.But this survival may well be with disability: as you get older, you're more likely to be disabled anyway, because of conditions like stroke, heart disease and dementia.

The "bomb" part of the demographic time bomb is that with increasing numbers of older and disabled people, and fewer children moving into productive adulthood, increased financial pressure is put on the working population to fund care and pensions. There is also a smaller pool of adults to work in the health and care sectors.

Inconveniently for some of the more swivel-eyed right-wing commentators, who rail against the higher (on average) family sizes of some immigrant groups in the UK, it is these same larger families that may protect us against the demographic time bomb. The larger family sizes increase the proportion of children and young people in the population and growing up into productive adulthood, while immigrants to the UK are considerably more likely than native-born individuals to work in healthcare.

So how much fallout will there be from the demographic time bomb? All we can do is work on projections of the future, and they're dependent on many factors. But if you can? I'd be sticking some money under the mattress.

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