Academic journal article Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland

The Demography of Ageing and Future Policy Impacts: A Northern Ireland Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland

The Demography of Ageing and Future Policy Impacts: A Northern Ireland Perspective

Article excerpt


One of the most significant changes in the make-up of the Northern Ireland population has been the relative ageing of the population. Population ageing is not unique to Northern Ireland; indeed it is being witnessed across the world. The reasons for population ageing vary. In some countries ageing is primarily due to increased longevity whilst in other countries the driving force is falling fertility levels.

Northern Ireland has witnessed both of these phenomena. There have been significant falls in fertility rates from on average four or more children per woman to around two today. This has been coupled with increased life expectancy, with improvements to public health, health care provision, nutrition and sanitation being instrumental.

These improvements, whilst extremely welcome, will create changes in the make-up of the Northern Ireland population. Most notably it is projected that the ageing of the Northern Ireland population over the next five decades will be the fastest in the United Kingdom [1].

Population ageing will have an impact on the wider society in Northern Ireland. In areas such as grandparents caring for their grandchildren, more opportunities for older people to work until later in life and a host of other changes. Government has had to respond to these changes in a number of areas of social and economic policy. Most notable are changes in the economic sphere, with increases in state pension age brought about by the Turner Pensions Commission [2] and more recently the United Kingdom Government consultation on phasing out the default retirement age [3].

Locally, the Northern Ireland Government in 2005 published "Ageing in an Inclusive Society" [4]. The strategy sought to promote greater inclusion of older people in Northern Ireland in society. The strategy forms part of the wider equality agenda; with age being one of the areas assessed by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

In this context it is important that the demographic evidence base around population ageing is available for policy makers, politicians and the wider society. This will help ensure that future changes in policy are evidence based.

This paper looks at population ageing in detail with specific emphasis on the changing age structure of the Northern Ireland population and the numbers of older people. This paper is split into various sections looking at: the different definitions of ageing; an insight into why the population is ageing; comparisons of the ageing population across the United Kingdom, the European Union and the Rest of the World; life expectancy and healthy life expectancy; and, projections for the older population and living arrangements for the older population.


It is important to recognise that older people are a disparate group and that ageism both towards old and young people exists in society and this needs to be addressed through better information, advice and legislation where appropriate. Allied to this is the concept that it is perhaps incorrect to categorise people with respect to their age. Indeed descriptors of chronological age are very much a subjective issue; what is young or old for one person may not be for another. However, age is used across society and is recorded effectively. Therefore whilst accepting the general point it has been necessary to adopt some standard age-related classifications solely around chronological age.

For the purposes of this paper a number of definitions are used. Firstly, a general definition, the older population are those aged 65 and over, with the youngest old those aged 65 to 84 years and the oldest old those aged 85 and over. This definition of the oldest old is used across the developed world [5].

Secondly, in terms of state pension in the United Kingdom, up until 5 April 2010 women aged 60 and over and men aged 65 and over were eligible for the state pension and are thus of "pensionable age". …

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