According to a new report from University College London “older people are a benefit, rather than a burden, to the economy and society”.  Active Ageing: Live Longer and Prosper, the report published by the UCL School of Pharmacy, claims that the benefits of living longer will outweigh the additional health and social care costs of population ageing.  This is a fascinating claim and certainly runs counter to what we’ve been hearing over the past few months (and counter to what we’ve been reporting on this blog too!)

I haven’t been able to locate the full report after a quick Google and look around the UCL website, so can only evaluate the public pronouncements made by the report’s authors in the media.  Some of these comments are not contentious and barely worth a media release:

“‘All too often old age is seen as a time of increasing dependency, vulnerability and frailty. But older people already contribute significantly to their families’ and wider communities’ wellbeing,’ said Dr Jennifer Gill, co-author of the report.”

I’m sure that that is very true.  But won’t all these old people be a financial burden on the rest of society? After all, there are more old people thanks to our medical advances:

“Life expectancy at 65 has increased by six years since the 1950s. As people live longer they stay healthier, at any given age. Such advances have partly been generated by the pharmaceutical revolution of 1950‐2000.

Medicines for conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and diabetes, are now well understood and have already contributed significantly to falling death and disability rates, despite problems such as obesity.”

However, according to this report, in the 1980s and 1990s only 0.2% of the annual increase in NHS was due to population ageing.  By now it is about 1%.  But even that number is outweighed by the positive contribution that adults aged over 65 years make to the British economy:  £40 billion in 2010.  That number is expected to grow too:

“[i]t is estimated that by 2030 retired ‘baby boomers’ will contribute £80 billion to the economy.”

That is an interesting figure, but is it a fair comparison?  How much of that £40 billion – £80 billion is actually taxed and therefore available for spending by the government on the NHS?  Also, how is that figure reached?  By pensioners spending money already saved? Or is that money that is being earned as well?  What is more incredible is this claim:

“‘In future decades, greater participation by people in their 60s and 70s in formal and informal work, alongside additional decreases in the number of life years spent with major disabilities, could increase national productivity by up to 10 per cent of GDP,’ said Dr Gill.”

I do take this all with a grain of salt, and I would be interested to see the report in full, especially since so many other pundits and economists predict economic hardship for a greying population.  However, as far as it goes, it is worthwhile to remember the fantastic experience, knowledge and general good sense that the older generation has.  We are going to have to get used to the fact that many countries becoming older. The blue rinse is going to get more fashionable.  Finding out how the elderly can stay more integrated into the economy will make the economic bump less painful. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...