The bulk of discussion with regards to an ageing population frames the phenomenon as a problem, especially in terms of costs. The above question challenges the student to show their understanding of these supposed problems and explore possible benefits of an ageing population. There's a glut of literature available on the problems compared to the dearth of articles on the benefits.
An ageing population is one in which the proportion of elderly increases while correspondingly the proportion of working-age people decreases. The potentially damaging consequences of such a demographic trend include the following:
- as the working-age population decreases, countries experience declines in human capital, which potentially reduces productivity;
- pension and social insurance systems can become heavily burdened;
- the ability to care for the growing elderly population declines as household sizes decrease;
- the elderly face sharply increased health care needs and costs
In the intense debate over the most effective policies to reverse these developments, the three broad policy approaches considered were to:
- encourage marriage or cohabitation and more childbearing among younger couples;
- increase immigration of working-age people into countries that need them; and
- reform social policy more generally, in order to ameliorate the negative consequences ofthese trends – measures could include raising the retirement age or encouraging more women to enter the workforce.
A study examining the interrelations between policy and demographic change (ibid), published by the RAND Corporation concluded that
- Replacement immigration cannot prevent population ageing or its consequences.
- National policies can slow fertility declines under the right circumstances.
- No single type of policy intervention will necessarily slow fertility declines.
- What works in one country may not work in another. Social, economic, and political contexts influence policy impacts. Therefore, policies indirectly aimed at fertility whichtarget improvements in broader conditions may have beneficial fertility effects.
- Population policies take effect slowly, and therefore may be politically less attractive.
One of the less common articles examining the benefits of ageing is written by Judith Healey of Australian National University. The list of benefits documented by Healey in the case of Australia are:
- the rise in volunteerism – In Australia, the number of ageing baby boomers volunteering more than compensates for the decline in women volunteers due to the increase in number of women in the work force. 'Volunteering is… an indicator to a healthy civil society'.
- a more cohesive society: 'They play an important role in supporting and maintaining informal social networks thus binding communities and families within communities.'
- increased availability of social support: 'Older people are, in fact, net providers [of help], at least up to the age of 75 years. They provide childcare, financial, practical and emotional assistance to family members including helping people outside of the household with the tasks of daily living.'
- a lower crime rate, and the resultant reduction in spending: 'It is likely that older communities will be more law abiding communities since older people are less inclined to commit crimes against property and people. This would result in 'substantial savings in prison and policing costs'.
- a more vibrant economy: 'Population ageing offers many opportunities for the economy to respond to the needs of older people. The ageing of the consumer market will change the emphasis, for example more golf clubs will be sold than surf boards, but the trends suggest that the mature consumer will spend less on luxury goods and more on grandchildren, leisure and recreation'.