Birth Rate: 12.8
Death Rate: 8.9
Growth Rate: 3.9
Like many countries across Europe, the United Kingdom's population is ageing. Although the number of elderly people is not rising as quickly as some countries such as Italy or Japan, the UK’s 2001 census showed that for the first time, there were more people aged 65 and older than under 16 living in the country.
By 2040, it is estimated that there will be 15 million people aged 65 or over, compared to 8.7 million under 16. Within this older age cohort, the most rapid rise has been made by the ‘oldest old’ who are aged 85+. Their numbers have increased from 660,000 in 1984 to 1.4 million in 2009. By 2034, it is predicted that there will be 3.5 million people in the elderly age range, accounting for 5% of the UK population. Nearly 90,000 of these will be over 100 years old.
The two main factors that contribute to ageing populations are improved life expectancy and falling fertility rates.
Life expectancy started rising in the United Kingdom around the mid-1800s when new agricultural production and distribution techniques improved the nutrition of large proportions of the population. Medical innovations and improved sanitation later in the century led to further increases. Other factors that have contributed to a longer life span include improved housing, cleaner air and better average living standards. In the UK, those born in 1900 could expect to live to either 46 (males) or 50 (females). By 2009, this had risen dramatically to 77.7 (males) and 81.9 (females).
In the UK, the fertility rate has been below replacement levels since the early 1970s. The average fertility is presently 1.94 but there are regional differences within this, with Scotland’s fertility rate currently 1.77 compared with 2.04 in Northern Ireland. There is also a shift to higher mean pregnancy ages – women giving birth in 2009 were on average one year older (29.4) than those in 1999 (28.4). There a lot of factors that have contributed to this change. These include improved availability and effectiveness of contraception; the rising costs of living; increasing female participation in the labour market; changing social attitudes; and the rise of individualism.
Problems with an Ageing population
Work and pensions
Many pension schemes, including the UK’s state pension, operate on a pay-as-you-go basis where those that are currently working pay for the pensions of those currently retired. When pensions were first introduced in the UK in the 1900s, there were 22 people of working age for every pensioner. By 2024, there will be less than three. In addition to this, people now live a lot longer after their retirement than in the past so can be expected to draw on their pensions for a much longer period. Longer retirement periods may lead to an increased level of pensioner poverty, especially amongst those who have not been able to pay into occupational schemes. Women are particularly vulnerable to this. They have a higher life expectancy than men and can lose their husband’s pension support if he dies first. They are also more likely to have taken time out of labour market raise children or care for others, meaning they may not have saved enough for their retirement. In response to this,