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    World Population Day - 11 July 2023

    World Population Day is marked annually on 11 July. This year, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states:

    “History has made clear that humanity can not only survive population change – but thrives because of it. This doesn’t mean that population trends aren’t important. Rather, it is precisely because they are so important that we must move past simplistic narratives of “too many” or ‘too few’.

    “This year’s UNFPA State of the World Population report makes the case for a world in which each individual is free to choose their reproductive future – a world in which countries build demographic resilience by adapting to population change, rather than attempting to control it.”

    Echoing this sentiment, CPC-CG and QuantMig members Professor Jakub Bijak and Dr Emily Barker recently called for more resilience in policymaking based on their research findings. “Resilience” means that a policy can flexibly respond to potentially volatile future shocks without damaging the whole socio-economic system, which would continue to thrive, even if in a different form. To assess the resilience of various policy responses to unforeseen events, including those related to migration, or to other labour market shifts, like women staying in the labour force for longer, the use of formal demographic and economic models is essential.

    In the quest for this resilience, the UNFPA highlights the need for gender equality:

    “Advancing gender equality is a crosscutting solution to many population concerns. In ageing societies that worry about labour productivity, achieving gender parity in the workforce is the most effective way to improve output and income growth. Meanwhile, in countries experiencing rapid population growth, women’s empowerment through education and family planning can bring enormous benefits by way of human capital and inclusive economic growth.”

    CPC researchers, Dr Jason Hilton and Professor Brienna Perelli-Harris, responded to alarming reports of falling birth rates, highlighting that demographers have long known that the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has been declining worldwide. They also point out that population estimation is uncertain - forecasting mortality and fertility over a long period of time is hard; social and economic changes, as well as technological advancements, can alter their path. They note that declining fertility often represents positive societal developments. In countries with increasing fertility, improved access to education and contraception can therefore support women in gaining autonomy and choice about the number and timing of children.

    In the UK, data shared by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2022, showed that half of women in England and Wales are childless by their 30th birthday – a record high since data collection began in the 1930s. Dr Bernice Kuang and colleagues have found that women are delaying or foregoing having children for a variety of reasons, including labour market engagement, increases in women’s education, lack of stable work, lack of appropriate housing, and difficulty accessing affordable childcare services. In this case, policies which support younger people in their transitions to adulthood, such as stable employment, access to affordable housing, cost of living assistance and improved childcare provision may support improved choices about when to start a family.

    As well as fertility and labour market concerns, an ageing population also means increasing caring responsibilities. Globally, the family remains the dominant source of support for social care in later life, with these responsibilities often falling to female family members. The amount of intergenerational carers, also called “the sandwich generation” is rising. The “sandwich generation” are mid-life individuals who support both their parents and their children, whether financially, physically, or emotionally.

    CPC-CG research has shown how parents and adult children care for each other, exploring what it is like to be a carer, and how this affects paid employment. In the UK, about 3% of the population care for more than one generation either in the same home, or across multiple homes. The cost of childcare means that many parents (frequently mothers) are unable to work full-time without family support.

    As well as those that care for grandchildren, there are those that care for older relatives with implications on their working lives. People in mid-life who have caring responsibilities are more likely to reduce the amount of paid work they do so that they can provide care, particularly if they are female, single, are in lower paid employment, have poor health themselves and have frequent contact with their parents.

    Alongside this, there are generally smaller cohorts of adults of traditional working age available to support the growing number of elders. Intergenerational relationships will likely move beyond the family to embrace, for example, friendship networks, neighbours and communities. Such relationships and associated flows of support may take on greater prominence where kinship ties are weakened, for example, if family members do not live near each other, or if people are childless. One in five women born in the 1960s in the UK were childless at age 50, meaning that the number of women childless at age 80 will triple from around 20,000 today to over 60,000 in 2045.

    Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science and Connecting Generations member Professor Ridhi Kashyap also highlights the digital gender gap as a barrier to equality: "Digital technologies are central to our lives, playing a vital role in education and various aspects of society. By closing the digital gender gap, we can empower women and girls to become equal participants in the world, enabling them to make the most of the new opportunities that digital technologies afford, and ensuring equal access for all.’

    With more women needed within the labour market, yet more women feeling the pressures of caring across multiple generations, supportive policies around flexible working and a recognition of the unpaid labour that goes on outside the workplace will be vital to support these ‘sandwiched’ individuals. Support for those who don’t have family members to care for them also needs to be considered.

    Professor Jane Falkingham CBE, Director of the ESRC Centre for Population Change and PI ESRC Connecting Generations says: “I agree with the UNFPA’s sentiments that we shouldn’t fear population change, but that we must take it seriously and adapt to the changes. Fertility and families become the centre of those discussions, with many of those responsibilities and choices falling to women. We must therefore ensure we adapt public policies and programmes to meet the needs of uncertain societal conditions for younger people, the growing numbers of older people, but also those who are between the generations with the added responsibilities now facing those in mid-life. Gender equality is indeed key, with women and girls being supported in their choices throughout the life course, be that with education, whether to have children or not, access to childcare, flexible working and through social security and pension provision.”

    Listen to Professor Falkingham on the BBC Instant Genius podcast discussing the demographic transition:

    The world’s ageing population and the ticking demographic timebomb (BBC Science Focus)

    You can read more about how our Connecting Generations partners at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science (LCDS) are marking the day in their article World Population Day: Adapting to changing demographics.

    Watch the UNFPA’s video:

    8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities: The case for rights and choices (UNFPA)

    Further reading

    As Europe builds resilient labour markets, migration can help – but will not be enough (FutureRes Policy Insight)

    Support through the generations (Population Europe Policy Insight)

    Is global fertility really plummeting? How population forecasts are made (The Conversation)

    Half of women in England and Wales do not have children by age 30 (Financial Times)

    Baby bust: Can policymakers boost dwindling world fertility rates? (Financial Times)

    Effect of lockdowns on birth rates in the UK (CPC News)

    Census 2021: How England and Wales have aged over the past four decades (Sky News)

    Why the 'sandwich generation' is so stressed out (BBC Worklife)

    Social participation and health outcomes among carers in Great Britain (CPC Policy Briefing 47)

    Informal caring in mid-life and its economic consequences (CPC Policy Briefing 46)

    Digital gender gaps dashboard (LCDS)

    Posted 11/07/2023 07:54