Britain's old age 'time bomb' may have been exaggerated, say experts

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh say that the number of dependent older people in the UK has actually fallen by a third in the past four decades

The so-called old age “time bomb” – the anticipated burden that our ageing population will place on taxpayers – may have been exaggerated, experts have said.

In a cheering review of population data, researchers from the University of Edinburgh say that the number of dependent older people in the UK has actually fallen by a third in the past four decades, and is likely to stabilise at its current levels.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, demographics experts Jeroen Spijker and John Macinnes say that the standard indicator of population – the old age dependency ratio (OADR) – wrongly assumes that all people that have reached state pension age are dependent, ignoring the fact that improved life expectancies have led to older people being healthy and economically self-sufficient for longer.

OADR is worked out by dividing the number of people of state pension age by the number of people of working age (16-64 years).

The authors propose a new measure – real elderly dependency ratio – based on the sum of men and women with a life expectancy of up to 15 years, divided by the number of people in employment, irrespective of age.

By this measure, they found that the number of dependent adults had fallen.

“The different story of population ageing told by our real elderly dependency ratio has several important implications for health policy and clinical practice,” they said.

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