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The 'ageing crisis' thesis is exaggerated. Critically discuss.

The 'ageing crisis' thesis is exaggerated. Critically discuss.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Lucy Whiston. Originally submitted for Ageing and Dementia at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Maria Pierce in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Lucy Whiston. Originally submitted for Ageing and Dementia at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Maria Pierce in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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The ‘ageing crisis’ thesis is
exaggerated. Critically discuss.
gray dawn fast approaches. It is time to take an unflinching look at the shape of things to
come’ (Peterson, 1999, p.43).
The ‘gray dawn’ to which Peterson is referring to is the global problem of the ‘ageing crisis’.
Rapid demographic transitions of rising life expectancyalongside declining fertility result in a dramatic increase in the proportion of the populationover sixty-five. This population ageing will reduce the working population as a percentage of the population as a whole which will in turn constrain economic growth, increase socialexpenditure and lead to intergenerational conflict. This is both an economic and a politicalproblem which even the wealthiest countries cannot afford,
described as a ‘crisis scenario’where ‘an aging population overburdening the individual taxpayer, bankrupting the country
and creating extreme social and political tensions leading to a
‘war’ between various agegroups’
(Northcott, 1994, p. 67-68). As alarming as this prospect sounds while it is logicaland may present problems this thesis appears to be somewhat exaggerated. There has beenmuch research carried out in this area and a considerable body of literature available on thistopic much of which finds fault with statistical data on which this argument is based and
refutes the main problems which the ‘ageing crisis’ presents
while evidence is put forward toshow that we do not need to worry about an ageing crisis that we may in actual fact benefitfrom an ageing population.Demographic IndicatorsThe firs
t reason why the ‘ageing crisis’ theory is exaggerated is the shaky statistics from
which this argument stems. The ageing crisis is based on transitions in demographic trendsfrom high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates. This transition is as a result of 
decreasing mortality rates, lower fertility rates alongside increasing life expectancy whichtogether result in increasing dependency ratios. Based on these statistics the ageing crisis ispresented as inevitable. However, when you look at the statistics in detail they are based on anumber of unguaranteed assumptions about fertility, mortality and net migration levels whichare only assumptions not guarantees that have proven to be wrong in the past. New diseasesmay emerge or re-emerge influencing mortality rates. Fertility rates do not have a greatrecord of accuracy and a small change in fertility rates can have a sizable impact on the paceof ageing. Fertility rates are viewed as especially hard to predict due to a complex interactionof a number of forces such as family-friendly policies, laws affecting abortion, contraceptionor increased nationalism, the affects of which were seen after 9/11 with increases in fertility(Gee, 2002, p. 751). The same can be said for dependency ratios which depicts the numericalrelationship between the number of people of working age and the number of people assumedto be economically dependent based on their age. This equation assumes that certain agegroups are either productive or dependent leaving out unemployment, illness or those inemployment after sixty-five (Timonen, 2008, p. 91). It is argued by some that this assumptioncreates a false relationship between those who are dependent and those who are not ignoringthe dichotomy of interdependence and reciprocity (Gee, 2002, p. 753).Demographic indicators also leave out some important elements. The dependency ratio
doesn’t take into account
the contributions of older people to society. Although a very smallminority, some people over sixty-five do remain in employment after they become eligiblefor retirement. The vast majority contribute in other ways through voluntary work, care work,grandparenthood, unpaid work or the redistribution of resources to younger family members(Timonen, 2008, p. 92). In addition, while there is too much emphasis on the old agedependency ratio, the total and youth dependency ratio also need to be taken into account, as
the youth and old age dependency ratios have a counterbalancing effect on the totaldependency ratio. For example, in Canada in 1951 there was a total dependency ratio of 0.83.By 2041 the old age dependency ratio is expected to increase by .32 whilst the youthdependency ratio is estimated to drop by .33 resulting in an actual decrease in the totaldependency ratio (Gee, 2002, p. 752). In Germany this pattern is expected to lead to a
reduction in social expenditure by 2040 as ‘the rise in the
cost of programs for older people is
at least partly and may be totally offset by declines in the cost of supporting fewer children’
(Mulllan, 2000, p. 120). Dependency ratios also fail to take into account growth in theeconomy which is linked with the final problem of the influence of non-demographic factors,which is addressed in the next section of this essay.Non-demographic FactorsNon-demographic factors have been shown to take precedence over demographic factors andso the ageing crisis predictions often p
rove to be exaggerated as a result. ‘Non
forces could easily be more important... than demographic ones in their effects’ (Northcott,
1994, p. 68). Economic growth is seen as the most significant factor which will provide foran older population. Labour market forces outweigh demographic ones with unemploymentand rising economic inactivity being twice more influential even more so when the shift fromfull-time to part-time work is factored in (Mullan, 2000, p. 125). Net inward migration, oftenassociated with economic growth, also influences ageing demographics generally by alsoincreasing the proportion of the working-age population (Vincent, 1996, p. 14).Time bombsSecond, t
he ‘ageing crisis’
thesis also seems to be exaggerated when you look at the majorproblems of this approaching time bomb in detail.
The ‘ageing crisis’ proposes
that due to

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