March of the older old
Bandolier has for some time been intrigued by sweeping predictions of increases in the number of older people in the population. While this is likely to be true, it is always worth looking at the numbers behind the headlines.
UK projections
Figures for the UK as a whole, or its constituent nations, can be found at the website of the Government Actuaries Department (GAD; [1]). The site has some addition useful background information to help us make sense of the numbers. Downloadable tables show the predicted number of people of various ages in the population between about 2005 and 2074.
For the ages of 0-60 years, the total number of people in the UK populations remains remarkably stable over those 70 years or so, according to the projections and without taking much account of immigration. Over the period the total population growth of about 10 million, from 60 to 70 million, comes from increasing numbers of over-65s, whose numbers double over the period, and increase from 16% to 28% of the population (Table 1; Figure 1).
Table 1: Total number of older people in the UK population between 2007 and 2074
Year | (000) |
(000) |
(2007=1.0) |
(000) |
(2007=1.0) |
(000) |
Growth (2007=1.0) |
|||
2007 | 1.0 | |||||||||
2011 | 1.3 | |||||||||
2016 | 1.5 | |||||||||
2021 | 2.1 | |||||||||
2026 | 2.9 | |||||||||
2031 | 4.1 | |||||||||
2036 | 5.5 | |||||||||
2041 | 7.4 | |||||||||
2046 | 10.3 | |||||||||
2051 | 13.6 | |||||||||
2056 | 15.7 | |||||||||
2061 | 20.3 | |||||||||
2066 | 26.4 | |||||||||
2071 | 30.5 | |||||||||
2074 | 31.5 |
Figure 1: Total number of people aged 65 years and older and 85 years and older in the UK population between 2007 and 2074
Almost 40% of the increase comes from an increase in the numbers of the oldest old, here defined crudely as 85 years or older. This group quadruples in number over the period, and increases from 2% to 5% of the population (Table 1; Figure 1).
The most spectacular growth is in the number of centenarians. Over the 70 years of the projections, their number increases from 11,000 in 2007 to over a third of a million by 2070, and increase of almost 32 times (Table 1; Figure 2). Most of this increase comes in the later part of the period.
Figure 2: Total number of people aged 100 years and older in the UK population between 2007 and 2074
Of course, with this comes an increase in average life expectancy, by a few years more than present.
US projections
Figures for the USA can be found in their Census Bureau [2] in a variety of forms and in great detail. The number aged 65 years and older in the USA will almost double from 37 million in 2006 to 63 million by 2025, and there will be a third of a million over the age of 100 years by 2020.
Other places
The way in which population demographics will change in different parts of the world will not all be the same as in the UK and USA. A one-stop shop to examine population projections is at a United Nations site [3], with more details on population aging at another [4].
Comment
Some of the impact of these major changes will fall on people alive and in practice today. A child born in 2007 will see a very different world when entering his or her eighth decade in 70 years time. It is too easy to try and list the potential burdens that such changes will place on society, because the list becomes too long too quickly.
Perhaps two things are obvious. Although total life expectancy is increasing, the number of expected years in good health is not increasing so rapidly and there is a significant proportion of later years of life that may well not be spent in good health. A consequence will be a large increase in demands for healthcare, and there is at least the potential for a substantial shortfall between demand and supply, which will make any such problems we have now trivial by comparison.
The second obvious point is that there is much to be gained by vigorous promotion of healthy lifestyle, and a punitive attitude to an unhealthy lifestyle. The supply gap can be reduced by having more fit elderly people, and especially fit older old.
References:
- http://www.gad.gov.uk/
- http://www.census.gov/
- http://esa.un.org/unpp/
- http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/aging99/aging99.htm
previous story