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Squaring the ageing circle

First published: Prospect Magazine, 29 November 2021

Although living to a ripe old age is a cause for celebration, everyone knows we will eventually run up against quality of life and care problems as our capacities diminish. Less well known, though, is that ageing societies pose totally different problems for the economy and financial stability. The former is about us and our relatives, and primarily related to higher life expectancy. The latter is about us as a society, and is primarily about the slump in fertility. We can adapt to ageing only if we develop good coping mechanisms.

With fertility having fallen in the UK to 1.63 babies per woman—well below the population replacement rate of 2.04—we aren’t having enough children to become workers to replace the baby boomers, who are steadily withdrawing from the labour force. UK fertility is by no means the lowest in the world, but our age structure is rising steeply. In the mid-sixties, just after the last baby boomers were born, the over-65s represented 12 per cent of the population. Soon they will account for about 20 per cent, and about 25-30 per cent by the middle decades of the century. Read on….