Flexible aging: new ways to measure and explore the diverse experience of population aging in Scotland, using the Scottish Longitudinal Study

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Social and Political Science

Abstract

Population ageing is often seen as a threat to the economic performance and fiscal sustainability of countries because it increases the proportion of older people in the population while reducing the proportion of the population who are of 'working age'. This project examines the other 'face' of population aging: the fact that for any given chronological age, individuals have a lengthening life expectancy which one might imagine will also affect their attitidues and behaviour.



This project uses  vital registration (births deaths, migration) life table and census data, including linked data from the Scottish Longitudinal Study to examine how the gradual decrease in mortality has played out in different areas of Scotland (defined by geography and by deprivatioin indices) and by social class.



The heterogeneous nature  of population ageing and the flexible ways in which it can be negotiated will be examined.


Planned Impact

Our project will have four main areas of impact: (1) academic; (2) public policy research, development and formulation; (3) private sector companies; and (4) the general public.

Academic
Knowledge based academic impact is described in 'Academic Beneficiaries'. The project will also build capacity in UK social science quantitive methods by bringing a international researcher with advanced skills and able to pass these on in the future in a teaching role. It will build capacity in Edinburgh University's expertise in using administrative data through working with the SLS support officer team at the University of St Andrews. It will also build capacity by bringing in a postgraduate student, Ms Anna Schneider, supervised by Prof. MacInnes, whose doctoral research complements the work done on the project through undertaking relevant literature reviews and the development, through appropriate training, of the quantitative skills necessary to undertake research on one, clearly defined aspect of the diversity of ageing experience. No resources are sought for this aspect of the project, which come through the University's Graduate School of Social and Political Science.

Public Policy
Population projections show that the proportion of older people is rising in Scotland (so that the numbers aged over 60 will increase by 50% by 2033); that calendar age-based old age dependency ratios are rising; that old-age related public spending is rising and that all are doing so at a faster rate in Scotland than for the UK as a whole. In contrast to experience in some other countries, increases in healthy life expectancy have not been greater than that for life expectancy as a whole and regional diversity in healthy life expectancy (by deprivation quintile) is even greater than that for life expectancy. Moreover, population ageing has proceeded faster in rural areas, in part because of the impact of migration. Policy on population ageing, as set out in the Scottish Government's All Our Futures action plan, its consultation on Reshaping Care for Older People, lies at the the heart of many of its concerns. This makes it important to find better ways of measuring and forecasting dependency and understanding the diversity of ageing experience in ways that SLS data make possible: for example by distinguishing economically active and inactive older people. Our Pathways to Impact document outlines how we have involved policy makers in Scotland in the formulation of our research as well as sharing our results with them.

Actuarial profession and the private sector
Through the Scottish Government we have also been in contact with the actuarial profession, who are keen to better understand diverse mortality patterns and excited by the capacity of the SLS to shed light on them. Older people also represent a substantial and rapidly growing market, given their asset accumulation across the life course. We would expect our results, especially those bearing on the diversity of the ageing experience, to be relevant to the private sector's ability to understand the characteristics and likely future evolution of this market.

The general public
Population ageing and its consequences is not only widely debated, but relevant to discussion of the future of health, social care and pension systems that lie at the heart of contemporary politics. Understanding its dynamics more clearly, and developing a better public understanding of the variety of ageing experience and some of the contradictory implications of rising life expectancy is important for that debate. Our 'pathways to impact' document shows how we will feed into this debate through our links to the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR), the ESRC Centre for Population Change and our excellent links to the Scottish and UK print, broadcast and online media. We will also discuss our results with the Older People's Consultative Forum in Scotland

Publications

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Jeroen Spijker (Author) (2014) Hoe grijs is Nederland eigenlijk? [How grey is The Netherlands in reality?] in DEMOS: Bulletin over Bevolking en Samenleving

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Jeroen Spijker (Author) (2013) Population ageing in Scotland: Time for a re-think? in Scottish Affairs

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Jeroen Spijker (Author) (2014) Population Aging: How Should It Be Measured?

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Spijker J (2013) Population ageing: the timebomb that isn't? in BMJ (Clinical research ed.)

 
Description The results of our research were presented at several public events including: An ESRC Festival of Social Science event hosted by National Records Scotland on 4th November 2013 and chaired by the Registrar for Scotland. An ESRC Secondary Data Initiative Conference in London hosted by Age UK. A Meeting of the Parliamentary University Group at the House of Commons in July 2013. Various academic conferences in Turin, Boston and the UK. National Records Scotland is considering using our graphic of 'population leaves' in its presentation of demographic data. We published an article in the British Medical Journal which was downloaded about 5,000 times. Copies of our report were requested by and sent to the Cabinet Office, the Scottish Government and several other organisations. The research has been used to develop better indicators of the progress of population ageing than the traditional 'old age dependency ratio'.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Dissemination of our results: BMJ article
Impact In our article entitled "Population ageing:the timebomb that isn?t?" we argue that current measures of population ageing are misleading. The standard indicator of population ageing is the old age dependency ratio. It takes the number of people who have reached the state pension age and divides it by the number of working age (16-64 years) adults to estimate the proportion of older people relative to those who pay for them. However, this ratio gives little sense of the impact of population ageing on the real balance of dependency as it focuses exclusively on only the first of two contradictory effects of population ageing ? the production of more older people. Building on research from others, based on large improvements in old-age survival, we therefore proposed to define elderly by taking the population with less than 15 years of remaining life expectancy rather than a static age cut off point such as 65. Secondly, we also considered that the population who is supposed to take care of the elderly is substantially less than the working-age population, but whose size is constantly changing because the workforce is driven by many factors other than age (e.g. many retire before the legal retirement age, while conversely the employment rate of women and especially mothers increased dramatically over the last 50 years due to a weakening of the ?male breadwinner? employment system). Using a static pension age for planning of public expenditure on social resources, particularly related to health, therefore makes little sense. The same applies for the population who economically sustain them as the labour force constantly changes. Our alternative measure, the Real Elderly Dependency Ratio, therefore adjusts both sides of the dependency ratio and gives a more accurate and very different picture of population ageing: the proportion of dependent older people in the UK and other countries have actually been falling in recent years. On publication we were approached by the Cabinet Office, Scottish Government, and other public, private and third sector organisations from all parts of the UK to discuss our research including the BBC and Al-Jazeira-UK as well as abroad (Dublin FM). Political Observatory and Project Syndicate (the latter with a claimed global audience of 130 million, but aimed at public and private sector policy and decision makers) commissioned op-ed pieces from us. We have paid particular attention to the dissemination of our results and flagging up their implications for policy to non-academic audiences, including the actuarial profession, policy and decision makers in health and social care, public, private and third sector organizations concerned with older people, and of course the general public: We choose to publish in the British Medical Journal not only because of its health care system readership, but because publication here would bring attention from news organisations and transmit our message to both the general public and relevant policy makers. Publication on the front page, and our preparation of a press release and podcast meant our piece, received widespread worldwide publicity, television interviews, press coverage, including a piece by the BBC Home Affairs editor, tweets, retweets and blog commentaries around the world in several languages.
 
Description Dissemination of our results: Scottish Affairs article
Impact We reject claims about the sustainability of current pension, welfare, social or healthcare arrangements which are based on examining misleading indicators such as the proportion of the population aged 65+ or dependency ratios calculated using static population age structures. It is better to examining real trends in employment or other behaviour. Such claims are more likely to spring from a desire to restrict the volume of state activity than a desire to truly understand the dynamics of population ageing. On publication we were approached by the Scottish Government and other third sector organisations from Scotland to discuss our research. We also published in Scottish Affairs, because its readership comprises academic and policy and decision makers.
 
Description Dissemination of results: other
Impact We have paid particular attention to the dissemination of our results that were published in peer-reviewed academic journals and flagging up their implications for policy to non-academic audiences, including the actuarial profession, policy and decision makers in health and social care, public, private and third sector organizations concerned with older people, and of course the general public, as is described in the summary of impact below. Creating public awareness of the fact that we should not assume that population ageing itself will strain health and social care systems, that all elderly are by definition dependent and that increasing the pension age is the best solution to the ageing problem. Demand for services will rise but continue to be driven by other factors, including progress in medical knowledge and technology that are more related to years left to live than to actual age. Another issue is defining ?dependency?. Many elderly today choose to have an active life. While saying that 40 is the new 60 may be a bit cliché, in reality many more elderly are healthy (or alive) at their age then earlier cohorts, are big consumers (more and more now have holiday homes in sunny destinations such as Spain or Portugal to spend the winter there, something that earlier generations did not do because their life expectancy was much lower). In addition, many elderly contribute to society in non-economic ways such as caring for grand-children while their own children are at work or through voluntary work. Finally, while increasing the retirement age alleviate population ageing to some extent, there is still plenty of room for increase in older (55-64) worker´s labour force participation, for instance by eliminating forced retirement and ageism. Moreover as current workers perform less arduous work than previous generations many will be able to continue working for longer in the future, while new technology has always contributed to higher productivity. These are some of the issues that were discussed in seminars, interviews or in our own peer-reviewed and invited articles. MacInnes used his media experience to secure coverage in the Scottish broadsheet press for our articles and the well-attended Festival of Social Science event, hosted by National Records Scotland, and chaired by the Registrar General. This in turn was made possible by the close relations we established at an early stage of the project with NRS, which has enabled us to develop some very fruitful knowledge exchange not only with NRS but other branches of the Scottish Government. As a result of particularly the widespread worldwide publicity that our BMJ paper received from television interviews to newspaper articles and columns written about it in well known blogs including that of the Wall Street Journal and BBC Home Editor as well as on Twitter and Facebook, we decided to further possible social media impact by launching a twitter account @popageing. We are also in the process of constructing a project website for the research with help and guidance from the Sociology web design team of the University of Edinburgh. We have also given lectures based on our BMJ article at University Master courses (one to Masters of Public Policy students of the University of Edinburgh and one to Masters in Health Policy students of the Imperial College in London as a result of a personal invitation by Lord Darzi, the course director and director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation.
 
Description Parliamentary University Group
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact In July 2014 we will address the Parliamentary University Group at Westminster to explain the importance of measuring population ageing accurately and why we think traditional ways of measuring is no longer fit for purpose. For instance, the Old Age Dependency Ratio (OADR), the principal indicator of population ageing, how many people have reached the State Pension Age with the working age population. However, its first weakness is that the proportion of ?working age? adults who actually work (and thus pay taxes or national insurance) changes over time. Youngsters now enter the labour market from education much later than they did even 30 years ago. Men and women often choose (or are forced) to retire well before they reach the State Pension Age. Conversely, women?s employment has grown by 5 million in Britain since 1961. Defining dependence by age, as the OADR does, has another drawback. As life expectancies increase, the meaning of ?age? changes because dependence is being postponed to later ages, making forecasts based on fixed ages unreliable. People?s behaviour come to correlate as strongly, with remaining life expectancy as with their age. Once we control for life expectancy, acute medical care costs have no correlation with age. Our own alternative index of population ageing ?the Real Elderly Dependency Ratio? remedies these weaknesses by counting as ?elderly? with a life expectancy of <15 years, and counting actual workers, not everyone of working age. This indicator follows a different trend to the conventional OADR after 1981, as the ratio of dependent elderly to the employed has steadily declined since then. ?Population ageing? and growing numbers of ?dependent elderly? is still a key policy concern but based on our results current and the likely future course of population ageing is far less bleak than is generally made out to be, with obvious implications for the sustainability of pension systems, welfare, health and social care systems.
 
Description "Ageing Population Isn't the Timebomb Many Make It Out to Be" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article dedicated to our BMJ article which argues that the idea that dependent older people represent a great demographic challenge of our age is exaggerated as current measurements wrongly assume that all people that have reached state pension age are dependent. In addition, female and older workers' labour force participation can still be increased, which would lessen the financial burden of those who sustain the elderly. Journalist: Paul Hannon

Blog: Real Time Economics

Journalist: Paul Hannon

Blog: Real Time Economics
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description "Ageing population has been 'grossly over exaggerated', say experts" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Articles dedicated to our BMJ article which argues that the idea that dependent older people represent a great demographic challenge of our age is exaggerated as current measurements wrongly assume that all people that have reached state pension age are dependent. In addition, female and older workers' labour force participation can still be increased, which would lessen the financial burden of those who sustain the elderly. http://www.theinformationdaily.com/2013/11/12/ageing-population-has-been-grossly-over-exaggerated-say-experts

http://www.theinformationdaily.com/2013/11/12/ageing-population-has-been-grossly-over-exaggerated-say-experts
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description "An age-old assumption" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Articles dedicated to our BMJ article which argues that the idea that dependent older people represent a great demographic challenge of our age is exaggerated as current measurements wrongly assume that all people that have reached state pension age are dependent. In addition, female and older workers' labour force participation can still be increased, which would lessen the financial burden of those who sustain the elderly. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24921171

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24921171
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24921171
 
Description "Britain's old age 'time bomb' may have been exaggerated, say experts" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Articles dedicated to our BMJ article which argues that the idea that dependent older people represent a great demographic challenge of our age is exaggerated as current measurements wrongly assume that all people that have reached state pension age are dependent. In addition, female and older workers' labour force participation can still be increased, which would lessen the financial burden of those who sustain the elderly.

The Independent
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/britains-old-age-time-bomb-m...
 
Description "Don't worry about ageing Scotland as 60 really is the new 40" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We challenge the idea that the ageing population of Scotland is a burden on society, saying it fails to take into account the improving health of the older generation.

The Herald Scotland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/health/dont-worry-about-ageing-scotland-as-60-really-is-the-new-4...
 
Description "Experts defuse demographic timebomb of ageing UK" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Articles dedicated to our BMJ article which argues that the idea that dependent older people represent a great demographic challenge of our age is exaggerated as current measurements wrongly assume that all people that have reached state pension age are dependent. In addition, female and older workers' labour force participation can still be increased, which would lessen the financial burden of those who sustain the elderly.

Scotsman
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.scotsman.com/news/health/experts-defuse-demographic-timebomb-of-ageing-uk-1-3186005
 
Description Attitudes to age and ageing 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Invited to speak about our BMJ article which argues that the idea that dependent older people represent a great demographic challenge of our age is exaggerated as current measurements wrongly assume that all people that have reached state pension age are dependent.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Flexible ageing: new ways to measure the diverse experience of population ageing in Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Population ageing has become a core policy concern in the UK because of the implications of current and projected population age structures for future economic performance and the viability of pension health care and social care systems. The objective of our study is to use alternative approaches to describe population ageing in Scotland as the conventional old-age dependency ratios are based on 'fixed' definitions of 'old age' which therefore fails to take sufficient account of continuing and substantial improvements in both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. Neither does such an approach consider the diversity of the ageing experience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity
 
Description Flexible ageing: new ways to measure the diverse experience of population ageing in Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Objectives: To describe a taxonomy of different ageing experiences in Scotland (e.g. by birth cohort, sex, marital status, living arrangements, SES, deprivation); to see if such a taxonomy can be used to distinguish between a 'third' and 'fourth' age on empirical considerations; to use other approaches to the conventional old-age dependency ratio to describe population ageing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity
 
Description Flexible aging: new ways to measure and explore the diverse experience of population aging in Scotland, using the Scottish Longitudinal Study 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact The main points of our policy brief are presented. Based on our results that old-age dependency has actually declined over the last decades, we argue that population ageing is no excuse for trimming the welfare state, pension arrangements are unsustainable and increasing health care costs
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity
 
Description Flexible aging: new ways to measure and explore the diverse experience of population aging in Scotland, using the Scottish Longitudinal Study 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Population ageing is often seen as a threat to the economic performance and fiscal sustainability of countries because it increases the proportion of older people in the population while reducing the proportion of the population who are of 'working age'. This project examines the other 'face' of population aging: the fact that for any given chronological age, individuals have a lengthening life expectancy which one might imagine will also affect their attitudes and behaviour.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity
 
Description John Beattie Programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Conversation with about population trends and implications of ageing in Scotland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description LIVING LONGER The timebomb that isn't! but perhaps income inequality is 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Articles dedicated to our BMJ article which argues that the idea that dependent older people represent a great demographic challenge of our age is exaggerated as current measurements wrongly assume that all people that have reached state pension age are dependent. In addition, female and older workers' labour force participation can still be increased, which would lessen the financial burden of those who sustain the elderly.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.bhma.org/media/download_gallery/BHMA%20Newsletter3%20December%202013.pdf
 
Description Nurse warning after rise in proportion aged at least 50 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Articles dedicated to our BMJ article which argues that the idea that dependent older people represent a great demographic challenge of our age is exaggerated as current measurements wrongly assume that all people that have reached state pension age are dependent. In addition, female and older workers' labour force participation can still be increased, which would lessen the financial burden of those who sustain the elderly.

Herald Scotland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/nurse-warning-after-rise-in-proportion-aged-at-least-50...
 
Description Population Ageing: The time bomb that isn't? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Population aging has become a core policy concern because of the implications of current and projected population age structures for future economic performance and the viability of pension health care and social care systems. This lecture briefly touched upon some of the conceptual and analytical issues that are relevant for a better understanding of population ageing, including what population ageing is, what it is causes by, why society is (wrongly?) concerned by population ageing and ways in which it could be more objectively measured.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Population ageing in Scotland: time for a rethink? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Objective: To use alternative approaches to conventional ageing indicators to describe population ageing in Scotland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity
 
Description Population ageing: the time-bomb that isn't? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Population ageing' has worried policy makers because for every worker paying tax and national insurance there are more older citizens, with greater demands on social insurance, health and welfare systems and increasing volumes of morbidity and disability. However, these concerns are based on measures of ageing that do not take proper account of rising life expectancy or changes in the labour force. We therefore propose an alternative, more objective, measurement of ageing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity
 
Description Population ageing:the timebomb that isn't? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The population timebomb: The idea that an ageing population is making it harder and harder to fund pensions, social care, and healthcare, as the number of older people grows in proportion to the working population. Jeroen Spijker, senior research fellow at the School of Social and Political Science in the University of Edinburgh, explains why he thinks the risk has been overblown.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.bmj.com/podcast/2013/11/15/population-ageing-timebomb-isnt
 
Description Socio-Demographic Change and Social Risk: Population ageing in ageing societies - the time bomb that isn't? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact This lecture will briefly touch upon some of the conceptual and analytical issues that are relevant for a better understanding of population ageing, including what population ageing is, what it is causes by, why society is (wrongly?) concerned by population ageing and ways in which it could be more objectively measured.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description UK ageing population fears overstated 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Short comment on our published BMJ article that challenges fears over rate of ageing of Britain's population and that the ageing problem is overstated by government.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Years lived and years left: why the contemporary population ageing debate is mistaken. The case of Scotland. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Using results from Scotland based on linked census, vital registration and health data, we question the assumption that population ageing will lead to worsening real dependency ratios. We argue that the population ageing debate has concentrated only one one side of ageing: the increase in the proportion of older people (in terms of years lived) within the population, and has ignored the other side: the increase in remaining life expectancy at any given age (years left).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity