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Support and security in old age? Prospects for tomorrow's elderly as baby boomers head for retirement

Though it is often assumed that children will be better off in retirement than their parents, in future this may not always be the case, according to a booklet published today by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Recent changes in the family, employment, and the benefit system, mean that some people born in the baby boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s could be less secure after leaving work than their parents’ generation.

Titled ‘Demographic Aspects of Population Ageing’, the booklet’s authors are Professors Emily Grundy, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Jane Falkingham, of the University of Southampton. Their work shows a changing elderly population and one that will become increasingly diverse in future years.

They call also for more and better information about trends in health and disability; about how numbers of children and other family support influences health and use of services; and on employment paths and ethnic variations.

Professor Grundy reviews the causes and implications of population ageing and the changes in prospect for the circumstances of older people. She concludes: “Some of these changes are positive. For example, over the next 20 to 30 years, a higher proportion of older people will have at least one child alive, and the proportion married will also be higher, reflecting historic changes in marriage and fertility patterns and continuing falling mortality. However, these favourable trends will reverse in the longer-term.”

These changes will alter our future information needs, according to Professor Grundy. She said: “The increasing diversity of the elderly population, and the difficulties in measuring quality of life and disability in the Census or in large scale surveys, mean that imaginative responses will be needed to make sure we have the necessary data to plan ahead appropriately.”

Professor Falkingham says that with increasing emphasis on private and occupational pensions and a history of the declining real value of the basic state provision, economic well-being in later life will be more closely linked to employment histories.

Drawing on recent research, she said: “We found that, on average, younger baby boomers are considerably better off in terms of income than their parents at the same age, and it is likely this will continue into retirement. However, we also found that a third of all 1960s baby boomers who were not contributing to a private pension scheme at age 40 were also not owner-occupiers. Those without private pensions may not be able to rely on release of equity to make good any shortfall.”

The booklet accompanies the second of a series of special seminars organised by the ESRC in conjunction with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the British Society for Population Studies (BSPS), at which policy departments and academic experts will discuss key issues for those who provide official data.

Karen Dunnell, the National Statistician and Director of ONS, will chair the seminar, on June 30 in London.

She said:” Population ageing will continue to be a major social issue over the next 50 years. The work of Emily Grundy and Jane Falkingham clearly demonstrates the need for high quality information and analysis about those who will enter old age during the first half of the century. This will help address the policy implications of a growing, and increasingly diverse, population at older ages. Developing National Statistics to reflect these needs and support the research agenda is a key priority for ONS.”

Amanda Williams | alfa
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