The Ageing Population

Humans worldwide are living longer. Today, for the first time in human history, most people can expect to live up to their sixties and even beyond.
Humans worldwide are living longer. Today, for the first time in human history, most people can expect to live up to their sixties and even beyond.

Humans worldwide are living longer. Today, for the first time in human history, most people can expect to live up to their sixties and even beyond. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), by 2050, the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to total 2 billion, up from 900 million in 2015. Today, 125 million people are aged 80 years or older. By 2050, there will be almost this many (120 million) living in China alone, and 434 million people in this age group worldwide. By 2050, 80% of all older people will live in low- and middle-income countries.

With populations in places like North America, UK and Asia ageing more rapidly than ever before, many policymakers are being troubled with several interrelated issues such as increased health care costs, the decline in the working-age population and unsustainable pension commitments. According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, it is projected that by the 2050s one in four people will be aged 65 years and over, an increase from relatively one in five in 2018. The causes of an ageing population in Europe, the US and across the rest of the developed world are well-established and effectively explained in the Demographic Transition Theory model.

Demographic Transition Theory

The Theory of Demographic Transition gives insight into changes in birth rate and accordingly on the growth rate of a population. It suggests that a nation’s population growth rate cycles through stages as the country develops economically. Within this model, a country changes over time from one stage to the other as certain social and economic factors act upon the birth and death rates. Every country can be put in this model, but this does not mean that every stage in this model has a country with this specific definition.

‘Demographic transition refers to a population cycle that begins with a fall in the death rate, continues with a phase of rapid population growth and concludes with a decline in the birth rate’

E.G. Dolan.

What are the stages of the Demographic Transition Model?

Stage 1: This stage has been called the high population growth potential stage. It is characterised by high and volatile birth and death rates which almost neutralise each other. As a result, the population remains fairly stable, but it can have major swings with events such as epidemics or wars. Population growth is very slow in this stage because society is held back by a shortage in the food supply, the level of hygiene is also very low. Unless society develops new technologies to increase hygiene and food development (e.g. discovers new sources of food, or achieve better medical care), any fluctuations in birth rates are soon matched by death rates. This stage can be compared to the pre-industrial revolution era in the 1800s when the world was afflicted by epidemics and famine. It is believed that all human populations maintained this balance until the late 18th century

Stage 2: Stage 2 is that of a developing country, it is also called the stage of Population Explosion. The death rate decreases because of improvements in food supply and sanitation, which results in increased life spans and reduced diseases. The birth rate remains at a constant high level. During this stage economic development is speeded up because of government and individual efforts. Technology gets improved, mechanisation and urbanisation take place. Education expands and income also increases. But this economic development has not yet started influencing the birth rate. Due to the fact that the gap between birth and death rate gets wider, the population grows at an immensely high rate and that is why it is also called the Population Explosion stage. This is an “Expanding” stage in population development where the population grows at an augmenting rate, with a decline in death rate and no change in the birth rate. This stage can be compared to the industrial revolution in the late 1800s.

Stage 3: The third stage is also characterised as a population stage because the population continues to grow at a fast rate. The difference is that the birth rate as compared to the death rate declines more rapidly. As a result, the population grows at a decreasing rate. Stage 3 witnesses a fall in the birth rate while the death rate stays at a constantly low level. The decline in birth rate can be caused by economic developments, change in social attitudes or increased facilities for family planning. An increase in urbanisation causes more families to move to the cities, which results in changes placed upon fertility and the value of children in rural societies. The economy undergoes structural changes that make having fewer children economically valuable. This stage can be compared to Europe in the late 19th century when the access to contraception, and the status of women and higher education increased. The resulting changes in the age structure of the population include a decrease in the youth dependency ratio, which eventually results in population ageing. During this period between the decline in youth dependency and the rise in old-age dependency, there is a potential of economic growth through an increase in the ratio of working-age to the dependent population.

Stage 4: The rapid population growth ends in stage 4. It is also called the stage of stationary population, in which the birth and death rates are both at a low level and are again nearing a balance. There is little growth in population, it becomes more or less stationary at a low level. By the late 20th century, birth rates and death rates in developed countries levelled off at lower rates.

Stage 5: The original Demographic Transition Model has just 4 stages. But some scholars have suggested that a 5th stage should be added. Stage 5 is the stage in which the fertility rate, the average number of children born to women during their reproductive years, decreases. But others hypothesize a different stage 5 with an increase in fertility. If the fertility rate becomes lower, we will see a slow decline in the population size in the long run. But if the fertility rate rises in the other suggested stage 5, we will see a slow long-run increase in the population size. But, as with all models, this is an idealized picture of population changes in a country. The model is a concept that applies to these countries as a group and may not precisely relate to all individual cases.

But, as with all models, this is an idealized picture of population changes in a country. The model is a concept that applies to these countries as a group and may not precisely relate to all individual cases.

life expectancy

The ‘Boomer’ period

Besides improvements in healthcare and a declining death rate, the population has ‘aged’, because the birth rate changed. In 1945, the feeling of being liberated from World War II created euphoria with growing confidence in the future. As a result of this feeling, a huge wave of births in most developed countries started right after World War 2 until the 50s. For example, in the United States, births between 1945 and 1950 increased from 20.4 per 100 to 24.1 per 1000. This post-War generation is also called the ‘baby-boomer’ generation. This boomer period created a bulge in the age structure of most developed countries, and it is this generation that made the population ‘age’ more quickly than improvements in healthcare alone could have done. In the United Kingdom, by 2015 there were approximately 10 million people aged 65 or older. This is predicted to be doubled in 2050, which means that the 65+ aged people will constitute almost 25% of the population. The ‘very old’ people (80+ people) are currently 3 million in the UK, and this is likely to rise to 6 million by 2030 and 8 million by 2050.

However, an ageing population does not come without significant problems, and thus raises many questions and issues that policymakers need to address.

Problems of an ageing population

The Qur’an states this on the topic of ageing:

وَمَنْ نُعَمِّرْهُ نُنَكِّسْهُ فِي الْخَلْقِ أَفَلَا يَعْقِلُونَ

‘And him whom We grant long life — We revert him to a weak condition of creation. Will they not then understand?’

The Holy Qur’an (36: 69)

This verse describes a very important law of nature that everything that has life is subject to decay and degradation. So living longer has its downsides, when you become older you have to depend more on others because your body weakens. In Britain, increasing pressure is being put on social and healthcare services. In a speech on NHS reforms in January 2008, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown discussed a change of emphasis to prevention rather than cure, and the need to ensure the NHS benefits from new and innovative technologies. Another problem of an ageing population is that when a big group of people in a population is aged 65+, you will need lots of people who can help them. It is common in demography to divide the population into three groups:

  1. Children and young adolescents (0-14)
  2. The working-age population (15-64)
  3. The elderly population (65+)

A large part of the working-age population is seen as essential to maintaining economic and social stability in a society. And since only a small share of the younger and older population is typically working, these two groups seem to be seen as ‘dependents’ in society, as seen in demographic descriptions.

The ageing population has resulted in the problem of dependency. In 2008, there were 3.2 people of working age for every elderly person with a pension. This is projected to fall in 2030 by 12.5% to 2.8 people for every pensioner, creating an increasing dependency ratio. The dependency ratio is the ratio of those in a population who do not work, to those who do work.

The old-age dependency ratio is perhaps of more significance. This is generally described as the ratio of people aged 65 and over to the number of persons of working age (from 15-64). In 1977, when the baby boomers were young and still ‘at their activity peak’, the ratio was a controllable one in developed countries. It was 19 in the United States, 23 in Germany and 24.5 in the United Kingdom. By 2013, this has increased to 31.3 in Germany, 26.4 in the UK, and in the US just 21. It is predicted that within 5 years, the UK’s dependency ratio will exceed 30. This represents a considerable challenge to policymakers, in terms of the impact on public finances, and also in terms of policies that may have to be made to deal with it. It also brings challenges for the provision of goods and services targeted at older-aged consumers.

One obvious problem of the ageing population is that as the baby-boomer generation ages, the number of active workers (aged between 25 and 49) will begin to fall. It is estimated in the UK that by 2020 just 20 million workers will fall under this category. The number of active male workers is declining and it is expected to keep on declining. While the number of active female workers is actually increasing, and it is predicted to keep rising. The demographic that as the baby-boomer generation ages, the number of active workers (aged between 25 and 49) shifts, meaning that shortages in the labour market are almost inevitable in particular occupations and industries, for example, building, construction and farm work as these occupations require the most physical work.

On the contrary, the participation of elders (above 65) has doubled over the last decade. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, there were around 550,000 over-65’s and this increased up to 1,100,000 in 2015. Projections suggest that this trend will continue. The estimate of the average age of retirement from labour increased for men from 63.8 years in 2004 to 64.6 in 2010. For women, it increased from 61.2 years in 2004 to 62.3 years in 2010.

Another problem is that globalisation, technological developments (e.g. in transport and communication), urbanisation, migration and changing gender norms are influencing the lives of older people in direct and indirect ways. For example, even though the number of surviving generations in a family has increased, today these generations are more likely than in the past to live separately. A public health response must take action to these current and projected trends, and form policies accordingly.

Possible solutions for these problems

The WHO is developing a comprehensive Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health, together with the Member States and other partners. This plan draws on the evidence of the World report on ageing and health and builds on existing activities to address 5 key action points:

  1. Commitment to action. Countries need to be made aware of the value of healthy ageing and sustained commitment and action. To create effective policies for elders, the WHO will provide guidance, support, and training to local and national policymakers to help transform health and social policy
  2. Developing age-friendly environments. This will require actions to combat ageism (stereotyping against people on the basis of their age), and support Healthy ageing in all policies and at all levels of government.
  3. A health system that meets the needs of older people. Healthcare systems should be transformed so that health services can have affordable access to medical interventions that respond to the needs of older people and can help prevent care dependency at a later stage in life.
  4. Long term care systems. Systems of long-term care are needed to meet the needs of older people. These services can also help reduce the inappropriate use of acute health-care services, help families avoid huge care expenditures and free the women (who are usually the main caregivers) to have better social roles.
  5. Data and research. Focused research, new metrics and methods could give a far better understanding of Healthy Ageing and are essential for evidence-informed policy and evaluation. To achieve this, appropriate measures of Healthy Ageing need to be agreed on and collected through vital statistics, health and social care services, and population surveys across countries.

This is a plan made to solve the issue on an international level, but what are the options to solve this issue on a national level?

For example, in Britain, a number of options are available to both the government and private companies to deal with the ageing population of Britain:

  • According to the Age and Employment Network, this change in demographic can provide a great opportunity for businesses. Tapping into a broader pool of talent, skill and experience enabled businesses to increase productivity, build competitive advantage and improve the bottom line.
  • A controversial option is increasing the age of retirement. In the Netherlands, the government is gradually increasing the age of retirement from 65 to 66 in 2018 and from 66 to 67 in 2022. This process is happening with a lot of resistance from the younger generations. The result is that people have to work longer and pay more for their pension. Now, the UK government looks set to introduce this policy in the near future. Under current government policy, the state pension age for women will gradually rise from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020. For both men and women, it will rise further, from 65 to 68, between 2024 and 2046.
  • Another option is to encourage higher labour force participation. In developed economies, a high percentage of men of working age tend to work, however, for women and older workers aged 55-64, the percentage is relatively lower. Special efforts will be needed to make it more attractive for both older workers and women to stay on at work or find economically beneficial work once they approach or pass the age of retirement.

Islamic point of view

In modern society, the responsibility of taking care of the aged is shifted towards the state and as you can see, it represents a heavy burden on the economy. The notion that the family takes care of its elderly relatives has been almost impossible to imagine. In many Muslim countries, it is considered a disgrace and dishonour for the elderly to be treated in such a disrespectful way. This is what the Qur’an states regarding the care of the elderly:

وَاعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَلَا تُشْرِكُوا بِهِ شَيْئًا وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا وَبِذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَامَى وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْجَارِ ذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْجَارِ الْجُنُبِ وَالصَّاحِبِ بِالْجَنْبِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ وَمَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ مَنْ كَانَ مُخْتَالًا فَخُورًا

‘And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbour that is a kinsman and the neighbour that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful’ Holy Qur’an (4:37)

Holy Qur’an (4:37)
وَقَضَى رَبُّكَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِنْدَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَوْ كِلَاهُمَا فَلَا تَقُلْ لَهُمَا أُفٍّ وَلَا تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُلْ لَهُمَا قَوْلًا كَرِيمًا-وَاخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ الذُّلِّ مِنَ الرَّحْمَةِ وَقُلْ رَبِّ ارْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِي صَغِيرًا

“Thy Lord has commanded, `Worship none but Him, and show kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with thee, never say unto them any word expressive of disgust nor reproach them, but (always) address them with excellent speech. And lower to them the wing of humility out of tenderness.’ And say, `My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me (when I was) a little child.’

The Holy Qur’an (17:24-25)

These verses are extremely significant on this subject. After the Unity of God, humans are commanded to give priority over all other things to their parents who have reached old age, they should treat them with love, affection and kindness. Even if one or both of the parents become extremely trying and sometimes offensive, they should be treated with respect. Without any slight expression of disgust or disapproval.

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad rhabbreviation for "May Allah have mercy on him/her/them" states regarding this topic:

“The emphasis on the most excellent relationship between one generation and another slowly passing away guarantees that no generation gaps appears. Such gaps always interrupt the transmission of traditional moral values.

Islamic social philosophy, therefore, teaches that no generation should permit a gap to appear between it and the outgoing generation and between it and the future generation. Generation gaps are totally alien to Islam.” Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues page 106

If today’s modern society learns from Islamic social philosophy, many problems which the society faces today would cease to exist. There wouldn’t be a need for retirement homes for the aged, except for some unfortunate old aged people who don’t have a close relative to look after them. But in an Islamic society, the love between children and their parents are repeatedly asserted that it is impossible for a child to abandon his or her parents who have reached an old age for the sake of their own pleasure.


This article was originally published in the Annual Printed Edition of Majallatul Jamia

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