Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland census: Economy faces time-bomb

By Liam Clarke

Northern Ireland’s school and preschool children face a demographic time-bomb as they will have to support the huge number of people who will leave the workforce through old age.

The census shows 574,000 people between the ages of 40 and 64, an increase of 19% in just 10 years.

This is the group known in the USA as Generation X , the product of the postwar baby boom in the 1950s and ’60s.

In rough terms, anyone born between 1947 and 1971 falls into this category. In the Republic, where there is a similar population bulge, the economist David McWilliams dubbed them the ‘Jaggers’. That is the generation of men who might enjoy playing air guitar as they listened to Rolling Stones records.

Whatever you call them, their numbers are increasing fast. The only group that matches them in term of percentage increase is those who are already older.

The number of people over 65 has increased by 18%, or 40,400, since 2001. If we narrow it down to aged 85 or over, the increase is a staggering 35%. The numbers over 85 are low, about 31,400 in all, but the fact that they are increasing so fast shows that the Jaggers can expect a very long life.

Robert Beatty, the head of the census for NISRA, said: “The overall number of people over 85 is small but they are the most expensive population group in terms of health costs and the number of people reaching this age has increased by a factor of two over the last 20 years.

“It is likely to double again over the next 20 years.”

At the same time the number of young people is falling. There are now 379,300 people under 16, a decrease of 7%, who will have to pay for the aging population as they enter the workforce.

That comes on top of paying off their student loans, a problem not faced by Generation X — who generally got grants if they entered higher education — and raising their own children.

Already 55% of people are too young or too old to be in the workforce. And the figures show this dependency ratio is likely to get worse and that is why the retirement age is being raised.

With the exception of the Republic, all other European countries have even less of their population under the age of 14 than we do.

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