Studies have long indicated an impending crisis due to the wave of baby boomers who will require long-term care, but a new report says that “crisis” is an over-exaggeration of population demographics.
“The extent, speed, and effect of population aging have all been exaggerated and we should not assume that it will strain health and social care systems,” argue researchers from the University of Edinburgh, in an article published on BMJ.
The researchers build their argument on the grounds that the standard indicator of population aging, as calculated by the old age dependency ratio (OADR), does not take into account factors like declining morbidity rates and that the number of dependent seniors have actually been falling in recent years.
As there are now more people older than age 65 in the UK than there are children younger than 15, this has led to great concern among policy makers as this older age cohort demands greater health and welfare system utilization and have increasing morbidity and disability.
The OADR takes the number of people who have reached the state pension age and divides it by the number of working age adults (ages 16-64) to estimate the proportion of older people relative to those who pay for them.
Under this calculation method, all people above the statutory pension age are defined as “dependent,” regardless of their economic, social or medical circumstances. This overlooks the fact that rising life expectancy makes these older people “younger,” healthier and fitter than their peers in earlier age cohorts, the study’s researchers say.
For example, the average life expectancy of a 65-year-old woman in England and Wales was 11 years in 1900. Today, this same individual could expect to I’ve another 21 years, according to the authors’ calculations.
The researchers used an alternative measure, dubbed the “real elderly dependency ratio,” which is based on the total men and women with a remaining life expectancy of up to 15 years divided by the number of people in employment, regardless of age.
When they used this measure, they found that old age dependency in the UK has called by one third over the past forty years. The measure also shows similar falls in many other countries as well.
“The different story of population aging told by our real elderly dependency ratio has several important implications for health policy and clinical practice,” say the study’s authors. “Our calculations show that over the past four decades the population, far from aging, has in fact been getting younger, with increasing number of people in work for every older person or child.”
Written by Jason Oliva