The United Kingdom's Aging Population

Group of senior citizens sitting together outside playing cards and laughing.

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Like many countries across Europe, the UK's population is aging. 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 people under age 16 living in the country.

Between 1984 and 2009, the percentage of the population aged 65 and over rose from 15 percent to 16 percent, which is an increase of 1.7 million people. Over the same period, the proportion of those under 16 fell from 21 percent to 19 percent.

  • By 2040, it is estimated that there will be 15 million people aged 65 or over, compared to 8.7 million under age 16.
  • Within this older age cohort, the most rapid rise has been made by the "oldest old," those who are age 85 and older. 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 five percent of the total UK population. Nearly 90,000 of these people will be over 100 years old — seven times the 2009 figure.

Why Is the Population Aging?

The main reasons for an aging population are increased life expectancy and increased fertility rate.

As medicine advances and older populations are getting healthier, they will live longer and thus, the population as a whole will age.

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. Scotland’s fertility rate is at 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 labor market, changing social attitudes, and the rise of individualism.

Impacts on Society

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 husbands' pension support if he dies first. They are also more likely to have taken time out of the labor market to raise children or care for others, meaning they may not have saved enough for their retirement.

In response to this, the UK government recently announced plans to remove the fixed retirement age. This means that employers can no longer force people to retire once they reach 65. They also announced plans to increase the retirement age for women from 60 to 65. It was then raised to 66 for both men and women. Employers are also being encouraged to employ older workers and specialist initiatives are being put in place to support older people in returning to work.

Healthcare

It is also noted that healthy retirees are able to provide care to their grandchildren and are more likely to be involved in community activities. They are more inclined to support the arts by attending concerts, theatres, and galleries. Some studies show that as we get older, our satisfaction with life increases. In addition, communities are likely to become safer, as older people are statistically less likely to commit crimes.