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  • Project contributors: MacInnes J, Spijker J,

    This Project is part of the following research programme/s:

    Longer lives

    Overview

    Objectives
    Elderly health and mortality have been steadily improving in Scotland since the 1960s despite the persistence of large regional and local differences, and a life expectancy that remains below other Western European countries. 'Population ageing' will intensify in Scotland as fertility levels are likely to remain below replacement level, while life expectancy will continue to increase. By contrast, the speed of individual ageing or senescence will continue to slow down as older people become more active and health conscious, delaying the onset of chronic disease and reducing mortality. Population ageing will therefore have substantial social consequences both for individual wellbeing and for the sustainability and effectiveness of pension, health and social care systems. However, assessing these consequences needs a better understanding of the relationship between individual and population ageing, since the expansion of the older population will go hand in hand with changes in its composition and characteristics.

    The project has three objectives:

    1. To reassess the concepts of population ageing and the size and composition of the 'old' population by constructing alternative measurements of ageing based on (a) years of remaining healthy life expectancy, and (b) proportion of total life expectancy remaining, and to compare these with conventional measures, such as the old-age dependency ratio.
    2. On the basis of this reassessment to construct a taxonomy of diverse ageing experiences (e.g. through health status, current and past socio-economic status, living arrangements and civil status) and compare these across birth cohorts and by occupational social class.
    3. To review what implications the results have for forecasts of future dependency ratios and the evolution of demand for health and social care.

    Methods
    This project takes a sociodemographic approach to assess the challenges and opportunities of ageing populations in different contexts. Using data from the Scottish Longitudinal Survey, new measures of who comprises the elderly population based on years of remaining life expectancy (as predicted by risk factors such as gender, occupation, economic activity, civil status, subjective rated health and area of residence) rather than years since birth are constructed. Age is treated in terms of years left until death rather than calendar age. The latter are routinely used in the social and political analysis (e.g. in calculation of dependency ratios) because of the straightforward availability of data and their relevance to eligibility criteria set by public policy for e.g. pension entitlement and other social benefits. However, these commonly-used measures do not consider the impact of the underlying driver of population ageing in the first place: improvements in health which reduce morbidity and mortality.

    These alternative definitions of the elderly based on remaining life expectancy are used to construct estimates of the size and composition of the elderly, and their ratio to the actually economically active population in Scotland, using SLS and register data. This is then compared with 'traditional' population pyramids and dependency ratios for the period 1975 - 2025.

    Findings
    The usual approaches to definitions of 'old age', in terms of fixed age categories, such as taking the male retirement age of 65 as a cut-off point, or defining the old age dependency ratio (OADR) by expressing the size of the population aged 65+ as a proportion of the working age (16 or 20 up to the State Pension Age) population at a given point in time, have been challenged in two ways by this study:

    First, the size of the employed workforce is driven by many factors other than age so that its relationship to the population age structure is rather dynamic. For example, the employment rate of women has increased dramatically over the last 50 years as the 'male breadwinner' employment system has weakened, while the skill demands of a high technology economy has increased the age of entry to the labour market. Less than one half of men and women wait until the State Pension Age to leave the labour market, with the result that most adult 'dependents' (in the sense of not being in employment) are now below pension age. However, a growing minority of older people are now working beyond the State Pension Age, and given changes in public policy, attitudes to age discrimination, and employers' human resource management policies, the size of this minority might be expected to increase.

    Second, this research makes the case for using Remaining Life Expectancy (RLE) based measures of the size of the elderly population. Instead of taking a fixed age in years as the boundary used to define old age, this measure takes account of falling older age mortality by counting back from expected age at death. The distribution and average of this time can be calculated using life table data, taken from such sources as the Human Mortality Database, and census data linked to vital event registration. Thus, if we define the elderly as those within a certain amount of time of expected death, the boundary between the elderly and others will gradually move upwards as life expectancy increases. This is important because when mortality is falling substantially (as it is now in the UK and many other countries) this rapid change in 'years left' means that many behaviours and attitudes, including health related behaviours and attitudes, saving behaviour and consumption of health and social care services may correlate as strongly or more strongly with RLE ('years left') than with age ('years lived').

    Publications & Activities

    How should population ageing be measured?
    European Population Conference 2014 (2014). (Budapest, Hungary)
    Authors: Spijker J, Riffe T, MacInnes J,

    Incorporating time-to-death (TTD) in health-based population ageing measurements
    New Measures of Age and Ageing (2014). (Vienna)
    Authors: Spijker J, Riffe T, MacInnes J,

    Time-to-death patterns in markers of age and dependency.
    New Measures of Age and Ageing (2014). (Vienna)
    Authors: Riffe T, Chung P, Spijker J, MacInnes J,

    The myth of old age
    British Society of Gerontology 43rd Annual Conference (2014). (University of Southampton)
    Authors: Schneider A, Spijker J, MacInnes J,

    Population ageing: the time-bomb that isn't?
    Address to the Parliamentary University Group (2014). (Westminster Palace, London)
    Authors: MacInnes J, Spijker J, Riffe T,

    Decomposing and recomposing the population pyramid by remaining years of life
    European Population Conference 2014 (2014). (Budapest, Hungary)
    Authors: Spijker J, Riffe T, MacInnes J,

    Population Aging: How Should It Be Measured?
    Population Association of America Annual Meeting (2014). (Boston, MA)
    Authors: Spijker J, MacInnes J,

    Decomposing and Recomposing the Population Pyramid by Remaining Years of Life.
    Population Association of America Annual Meeting (2014). (Boston, MA)
    Authors: Riffe T, Spijker J, MacInnes J,

    Flexible ageing: new ways to measure and explore the diverse experience of population aging in Scotland, using the Scottish Longitudinal Study
    Data analysis for effective policy for older people (ESRC Age UK Showcase Event) (2014). (Tavis House, London)
    Authors: Spijker J, MacInnes J,

    Flexible ageing: new ways to measure the diverse experience of population ageing in Scotland
    Census Research User Conference (2013). (London)
    Authors: Spijker J, MacInnes J,

    Years lived and years left: why the contemporary population ageing debate is mistaken
    The case of Scotland. European Sociology Association Conference (2013). (Turin, Italy)
    Authors: MacInnes J, Spijker J,

    Flexible aging: new ways to measure and explore the diverse experience of population aging in Scotland, using the Scottish Longitudinal Study
    ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI) Networking Event (2013). (London)
    Authors: Spijker J, MacInnes J,

    Population ageing in Scotland: time for a rethink?
    British Society for Population Studies Conference (2013). (University of Swansea)
    Authors: Spijker J, MacInnes J,

    Flexible ageing: new ways to measure the diverse experience of population ageing in Scotland
    The Annual Conference of the British Society of Gerontology (2013). (Oxford)
    Authors: Spijker J, MacInnes J,

    Years Lived and Years Left: a New Perspective on Population Ageing in Scotland
    Economic and Social Research Council Festival of Social Science 2013: New Perspectives on Population Ageing in Scotland (2013). (Edinburgh)
    Authors: Spijker J, MacInnes J, Riffe T,