Danny Dorling is optimistic on global ageing:
“So what will a stable and older population look like? Our best clues are those societies that have already made the transition: look at Japan over the past couple of decades. Life expectancy will be very high and, barring years of natural disaster, should be expected to continue to slowly rise. Couples will on average have fewer than two children, so the population will slowly decline in size. There will be less overcrowding as this occurs. Transport will be largely publicly provided, and a large majority of the population will live in cities. Tokyo shows that it is possible for 30 million people to live in close proximity and relative harmony.
There are other models in Asia to consider as well. In Hong Kong and Macau fertility rates may be even lower than in Japan. Across the megacities of mainland China there are schemes in place to adapt cities to work without private cars and, since 2009, according to a Washington thinktank China has been leading the world in clean energy investments. China is preparing for the demographic transition and a future in which many groups of grandparents only have one grandchild between the four of them.
Across almost all of Europe, other than in the UK, population numbers are either in decline, or the slow population growth which exists is decelerating. In Germany and Italy numbers have been falling for some time. Ageing is accelerating as a result. When this is badly managed, it results in the young deserting rural areas too quickly, for the lure of bright lights and more young people.
Where ageing is managed well, people continue to mix.
And a growing number of elderly people provides more potential carers for the dwindling numbers of children in the world, the children who their children give birth to. This is part of the reason why 12,000 fewer children under the age of five died daily in 2010 than in 1990 – despite there being more children at risk, despite a billion still going hungry. Children in poor countries with surviving grandmothers nearby are far more likely to survive childhood themselves. As yet the benefits of grandfathers have to be proven, but hopefully they soon will.
Finally, what of countries like Britain and the United States that continue to try to put off ageing through relatively high rates of fertility and in-migration of young people? It is most likely that people continue to be drawn into these two places because so many have English as a second language, and there is a surfeit of low paid jobs and other opportunities at the bottom of the economic scale. Delayed childbirth due to middle class women having to compete more for work for longer in these two more unequal affluent economies may have also played a part, but even here there is evidence that current demographics may help.
Over half the couples in the world are having fewer than two children each. This is partly because almost everywhere infant mortality is falling, globally faster today than at any time in human history. It is when this happens that people almost everywhere become brave enough to limit their families to an average of two or fewer children and so our average age increases rapidly.
For a while in the rich world we need not age as quickly as we otherwise might. If more young migrants moved towards where the global elderly are concentrated, in our rich countries, this would slow down population growth and enhance global ageing as people quickly assimilate to the fertility rates of the places they move to. The future is bright; the future is grey, urban, caring, low-growth and green. We just have to get there.”
The immigration part is guaranteed to freak out the nationalist crowd but there is no other choice.