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Demographic Time-Bomb

One issue which you will not have heard debated too deeply during General Elections is that of population change. At present the EC as a whole represents six per cent of world population. Current estimates suggest that we shall have fallen to around four per cent by the year 2025. The average fertility rate for the EC is 1.65 per cent – about a fifth below the replacement rate. According to government statistics, in 1990 the fertility rate in the UK fell among women aged 25 to 29 from 134 births per 1,000 women to 122 per 1,000. Among the 20 to 24 year olds the rate dropped by a worrying 19 per cent. The UK population is expected to decline from 2020. The writer William Rees-Mogg has summed up the problem thus:

Before 2025 Europe will age; beyond 2025 Europe will shrink.


There are, of course, obvious benefits in having a smaller population. Our environment would have less demands placed upon it, for instance. Unfortunately, there are also disadvantages. The decline in population is not happening uniformly around the world. Population decline is associated with wealth. Mozambique has an average income of $80 a head, yet in 1989 forty-four percent of the population of Mozambique were under fifteen.
Greater and greater demands are placed on our welfare services by an ageing population at a time when tax revenues are likely to fall. The problem of our ageing population has already lead to accusations that the National Health Service discriminates against older patients. Dr Steven Webster, a Consultant Geriatrician, told 050 Magazine :

When things are scarce, people do look to see who can be shut out and the elderly are often in that list, frequently at the top.

Elaine Murphy, Professor of Psychogeriatric Medicine at Guy’s Hospital (London) also informed the magazine :

For practically all disorders, whether physical or mental, there is a fall-off for referral after the age of 65.

In practical terms, therefore, once you go over a certain age you are very unlikely to get the same standard of service that someone of a younger age would. In various ways the old have contributed to society during their lives, and not all of it can be financially quantified. Even if one just considers the amount of tax and National Insurance paid in a working lifetime, this effective “scrapping” of the elderly is nothing short of scandalous. The State has taken the tax money and the National Insurance contributions and it has spent it on other things — if we were dealing with a private company who behaved in this way, the Board would find themselves in the dock. (Or nowadays, maybe not…) What kind of country is unable to help people when they need it most, when they are old and in ill-health?

The old of course are not the only ones to find themselves under pressure. Partly because of the ageing population and low birth-rate, increasing numbers of women are needed to work. Eleven million women are now in full or part-time employment. Government experts estimate that 96 per cent of the growth in the labour force between now and 2001 will be among women.


Due to their careers, many women are now waiting to their thirties before having their first baby. Between 1980 and 1990 babies born to the over-thirties soared by 30 per cent: While the share of births to over-thirties increased across all the classes, it was particularly marked in social classes 1 and 2 (those where the head of household has a professional or managerial job). That this trend is career orientated can be discerned from the fact that the women who are having babies later in life have higher academic qualifications.

Of women born between 1945 and 1949 those with the highest qualifications had only 1.16 births on average compared with 1.96 births for those women who had no qualifications.

Writing in the Telegraph, political analysts Anthony King commented :

Who will look after the children? By 2001, mothers looking after their children at home, already a vanishing species, will be virtually extinct. Governments, whatever their own inclinations, will have no choice but to fashion childcare policies. Whole generations of children will otherwise be in danger of emotional and physical neglect.


The political effects of an ageing population are also worrying in some respects. We are likely to become far more introspective, cautious and conservative country. Political lobbying will increasingly centre on issues which concern older people — the fear of crime, and the provision of welfare services for instance. The ethnic minority populations who have a younger populations will become a more significant element of the workforce, yet will be in the curious position of paying high taxes to support an elderly white population with whose attitudes they will be at variance. We can expect the State to introduce legislation and programmes to placate the ethnic minorities — not because the establishment wants to help black people, but because they will need them as workers. Private companies too will target the ethnic minorities for recruitment, offering them various incentives.


These trends may depress some. Are we in an inevitable decline? Is there any hope of a renaissance for our culture and the people who bear it? Or are we doomed to be killed-off by our own success, our own affluence? The answer to these questions lie with you, the reader…..


The Daily Telegraph Saturday April 4th 1992.

The Independent 18th March 1992 and 24th February 1992.

050 Magazine : this magazine is produced by “ARP over 50” which campaigns for the rights of the 18 million over 50s. Further information on their work may be obtained by sending £1.50 to :

ARP Over 50
Third Floor
Greencoat House
Francis Street

Demographic Currents by Richard Belous for the British North American Committee.
The Challenge of World Development World Bank, 1991
Fertility and The Over Thirties Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.


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