In the News: How do we prepare for an ageing population?

Global population set to peak in 2064 due to falling birth rates and people living longer

Ireland’s population is set to peak at 5.8 million in 2057 before declining to 4.82 million by the end of the century. Photograph: iStock

Ireland’s population is set to peak at 5.8 million in 2057 before declining to 4.82 million by the end of the century. Photograph: iStock

 

Last year, researchers from the University of Washington forecast that the worldwide birth rate, which has been rapidly dropping since the 1960s, would continue to shrink dramatically over the coming decades.

The study predicted the global population could peak at 9.7 billion by 2064 - nearly four decades earlier than predicted by the UN - and decline to 8.8 billion by 2100.

Meanwhile, growing numbers will continue to live longer with fewer people of working age available to foot the tax bill for the cost of the elderly’s care and support.

Here in Ireland this demographic challenge is no different. The Republic’s population is set to peak at 5.8 million in 2057 before declining to 4.82 million by the end of the century.

This is not all bad news. The falling birth rate is directly connected to improvements in access to modern contraception and more women choosing to have smaller families and pursue a career.

And on a global level, surely fewer people on this planet means better availability of resources and better chances of overcoming the climate crisis?

However, here in Ireland, are we prepared for a future with far more people aged over 65 when the country is seriously struggling to protect the most elderly and vulnerable in nursing homes around the country during the pandemic?

The BBC’s Population Correspondent Stephanie Hegarty told presenter Sorcha Pollak that governments internationally are already taking measures to try to encourage people to have children and slow down falling birth rates.

“Right now we’re seeing a real backlash against immigration but some reachers are predicting there will be competition for immigrants because countries will be trying to bolster their workforces,” said Hegarty. “If that’s not managed, we could see huge imbalances, very overpopulated countries and very under populated countries.”

Meanwhile, the Government needs to provide more financial support to the homecare sector so older people can remain at home and maintain some independence, our Current Affairs Editor Arthur Beesley told the podcast. At present, homecare remains “unregulated” and needs to be “expanded vastly”, said Beesley.

“The reality of the demographic pressures is that there simply isn’t going be the choice but to go down this road. The fact that people age and live longer is a very good thing but health issues arise in that context, not everyone will be able to care for themselves in their later years, not everyone is going to have people in their own family who can help and their needs will go beyond what is within the capacity of their family to provide. There’s a certain inevitability about these problems.”

In the News is presented by reporters Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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