Aging Populations

Next time you are in a public place, look around you. What do you think the age composition of your local area is? Now, what about the age composition of your whole country? Do you think the population of your country is youthful, or perhaps it is fairly old? Populations with a high number of older people make an aging population, which has both advantages and disadvantages. Keep reading this explanation to gain an in-depth understanding of aging populations as a whole.

Aging Populations Aging Populations

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Table of contents

    Aging Population Definition Geography

    In population geography, it is crucial to gain an understanding of the demography of a country. Some aspects of population that are studied in geography include the number of people in a population, the density of a population, and the composition of a population. Sex and age form the composition of a population and this, more specifically age, contributes to producing an aging population.

    An aging population is an increase in the number of older people within a population, whilst the number of young people remains low or does not increase.

    As a society develops, changes occur to the economy and society, and this alters a population's composition. Often, factors such as improved services, increased life expectancy, decreased poverty, and a decrease in inequalities leads to people living a longer and higher standard of life. This can result in an aging population.

    Aging Populations, A Map of the Median Ages Across the Globe, StudySmarterFig 1. A Map of the Median Ages Across the Globe.

    Fertility, Mortality, and Life Expectancy

    Aging populations occur as a consequence of decreasing fertility rates, decreasing mortality rates, and increasing life expectancies.

    How do a reduced fertility rate and reduced mortality rate lead to an aging population?

    With a reduced fertility rate, fewer children are born. Therefore, there is no influx of young people being brought into the population. However, older people remain in the population, and this is due to a reduced mortality rate as life expectancy increases (often due to factors such as high-quality health care).

    Advantages of an Aging Population

    There are many advantages of aging populations. These include:

    • An increased number of laborers.
    • An increased number of volunteers.
    • Increased experience within the population.
    • Fewer costs associated with children.

    Since there is a high proportion of older people in an aging population, there is also a higher number of people that can remain in the workforce, and this is beneficial to the economy of a country. Additionally, these older people are also likely to volunteer after retirement which means there can be an increased number of volunteers in an aging population, which is greatly beneficial to the community and governments. Older people typically have more experience than younger people, and this is also advantageous to the workforce. Finally, as there are fewer children in an aging population, there are fewer costs and expenses on children's services such as childcare.

    Aging Population Problems

    On the other hand, there are also problems associated with aging populations. These include:

    • Increasing costs for governments and taxpayers
    • Increased pressure on health services
    • Increased competition for jobs
    • Decreased participation in the workforce
    • Increased dependency
    • Less funding spent on services for young people

    Increasing costs for governments occur in an aging population because of an increase in the need for healthcare. This is because elderly people are more vulnerable to illness and disease. This also places increasing pressure on healthcare systems because it is likely that in an aging population, a higher number of people will require healthcare. Furthermore, more government-paid pensions are required in an aging population, further contributing to the expenses of having an aging population.

    There can also be increased competition for jobs which can create issues in society and the economy, potentially forcing some people into poverty. Alternatively, there can be decreased participation in the labor force. This could be due to the combination of a reduced number of young people and a higher number of people at retirement age, which can cause a slowdown in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth.

    An aging population will also impact family decisions. Families will have to decide who takes care of their elderly relatives. Within this decision, they will have to take into account factors such as financial aspects of the care, as well as who will be the carers. If the family decide to care for their relatives themselves, this can lead to the family losing income as they may have to lose their job to care for their relative.

    Aging populations also create a high dependency ratio.

    The Dependency Ratio is the number of people that do not work compared to the people who are of working age.

    This means that there is a high amount of older people that require services, but there is a decrease in the workforce who care for older people.

    Don't forget to take a look at the explanation of the Dependency Ratio to understand more about this topic.

    Finally, in an aging population, the government might spend less funding on services for young people. This is due to the fact funding may be focused on services for older people, which may lead to the shutting of schools and therefore impact the education of younger people.

    Countries with Aging Populations

    Some countries that have aging populations include Japan, the UK, Finland, Germany, Cuba, and Sweden.

    UK

    The UK's aging population is due to increasing life expectancy and a reduced fertility rate. It is expected that the aging population will continue increasing, and this is creating pressure on society and the government in the UK. These pressures include finding suitable carers for the elderly, building enough specialist elderly housing, such as retirement homes and care homes, and sufficient access to provide advice and support to elderly people.

    Finland

    Finland's aging population is increasing the dependency ratio of the population, and this places challenges on the country. To combat these challenges, Finland is aiming to increase employment rates.

    Germany

    The aging population of Germany is placing pressure on the country's pension scheme. This means that the required age to retire to gain your pension is increasing, causing people to work for a longer amount of time.

    Aging Population Example

    A prime example of an aging population is in Japan. Let's take a look:

    Japan

    The median age in Japan is 48.5 years old.1 Japan is well known for its aging population. In fact, it is one of the oldest societies worldwide. In 2021, people aged 65 and above made up 29% of the entire population of Japan.2

    Aging Populations, Japan's Population Pyramid in 2019, StudySmarterFig 2. Japan's Population Pyramid in 2019.

    Although Japan had a baby boom post-war between 1947 and 1949, low fertility rates quickly followed this baby boom.

    The table below examines some reasons for Japan being one of the fastest-aging populations worldwide.

    Reasons for Japan's Low Fertility RateReasons for Japan's High Life Expectancy

    A decline in employment opportunities – people are more likely to have children if their partners are in secure jobs.

    High-quality health care.

    The working culture of Japan – long and stressful working hours lead to less time to care for children.

    The active lifestyle of the elderly.

    Declining marriage rate.

    Clean water availability.

    Healthy dietary habits.

    Table 1

    In Japan, women seek husbands who earn well to support their families. The gender roles in Japan are as such that men are expected to provide for their families by earning well, whilst women care for their children.

    How does this impact Japan's society and economy? Let's examine some major effects of Japan's aging population.

    Effects of Japan's Aging Population

    Japan transitioned into an aging population, which caused the population to begin shrinking around 2011. It is also predicted that Japan's population will continue to shrink, and this will have major repercussions on Japan's economy.

    As a consequence of Japan's aging population and shrinking population, there is an increasing strain on the economy and public finances, leading to potential challenging budget costs. This is due to the high amounts of health care and pensions required for the elderly people in the population, whilst the tax base shrinks.

    Another issue with Japan's aging population is vanishing labor. The workforce is shrinking due to the high amount of elderly people who retire. Additionally, depopulation of rural areas means that elderly people in rural regions are most likely to suffer, potentially losing care from younger people and leading them to poverty.

    Japan also faces an increase in the number of empty homes due to the oversupply of housing built, despite the county's shrinking population. This is causing a weakening in house prices, further impacting Japan's economy.

    Consequences of an aging population

    Overall, there are a number of consequences of an aging population. These include:

    • A Shrinking Population
    • A Strain on the Economy.
    • Impacts on the Housing Market.
    • A Shrinking Workforce.
    • Changes to How Families Operate.
    • Pressure on Governments.

    Aging Populations - Key takeaways

    • Aging populations are when the population has an increase in the number of older people.
    • Decreasing fertility rates, increasing life expectancy and decreasing mortality rates lead to an aging population.
    • Advantages of aging populations include more laborers, more volunteers, more experience, and fewer costs on services for young people.
    • Disadvantages of an aging population include increased costs to the economy, increased pressure on health services, increased competition for jobs or decreased participation in the workforce, potential less funding for young people, and an increased dependency ratio.
    • Japan is one of the fastest aging populations and as a consequence is becoming a shrinking population.

    References

    1. "Japan: Demographic Shift Opens Door to Reforms". https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2020/02/10/na021020-japan-demographic-shift-opens-door-to-reforms (No Date).
    2. "Population ages 65 and above". https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.65UP.TO.ZS?locations=JP&most_recent_value_desc=false (No date).
    3. Fig 1. A Map of the Median Ages Across the Globe. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2017_world_map,_median_age_by_country.svg), by Ms Sarah Welch (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Ms_Sarah_Welch), licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en).
    4. Fig 2. Japan's Population Pyramid in 2019. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Japan_population_pyramid_10.01.2019.png) by Sdgedfegw (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Sdgedfegw) is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Aging Populations

    What causes an aging population?

    An aging population is caused by low fertility rates, low mortality rates and high life expectancies. 

    Why is an aging population a problem for society?

    An aging population is a problem for society because it causes costs to the economy, social and political issues as pressure is placed on services and governments, as well as an increased dependency.  

    What is an aging population?

    An aging population is when the number of older people continue to increase whilst the number of younger people remains low. 

    How can countries adapt to aging populations?

    Countries can adapt to aging populations by implementing population policies, encouraging people to have children (increasing the fertility rate) and encouraging immigration.

    What is an example of an aging population.

    Japan is an example of an aging population. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What age range is counted as the youth population in calculating the dependency ratio?

    What age range is counted as the old age population in calculating the dependency ratio?

    What age range is counted as the working age population in calculating the dependency ratio?

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