Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland goes grey as pensioner numbers set to soar

By Adrian Rutherford

The number of retired people living in Northern Ireland is predicted to jump by a quarter over the next decade.

By 2022 there will be 344,000 people aged 65 and over, compared to 273,000 last year, statistics analysts forecast.

And the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to rise by nearly 50% in that time.

The changing shape of our population is mapped out in figures published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra).

It estimates our population could reach 1.9m by 2020, hitting the two million mark by 2036.

Part of the reason is the fact that people are living longer.

Analysts predicted a quarter of children born in Northern Ireland this year will live to be at least 100.

Dr David Marshall, head of demographic statistics at Nisra, said the "remarkable" projection was based on current mortality rates and longer-term trends.

"If mortality rates continue to decrease as they are, a child born today will have a 25% chance of living to 100," he said.

Dr Marshall said that, in the past, less than 1% of people born in a certain year in Northern Ireland would reach 100.

However, he said a growing older population would not necessarily see a proportionate increase in demand on health services, explaining that the reason people were living longer was due to better overall health.

"It doesn't necessarily follow that there will be huge healthcare demands," he added. "People say 40 is the new 30, well 85 could be the new 70."

Analysts estimate that over the next five years migration could result in the population falling by 3,000 people – in contrast to the period between 2004 and 2008 when migration added 32,000 to the figure. Generally emigration has risen while immigration has fallen.

Dr Brian Lambkin from the Centre for Migration Studies in Omagh said the changing economic situation was the main reason.

"Net migration will, broadly speaking, reflect economic circumstances," he said.

"Since the downturn in 2008 there have been fewer and fewer opportunities.

"It means many of the people who have been attracted to come in the short term by a boom developing in the labour markets have gone home."

The overall population now stands at 1,820,000 but is set to increase by 10,000 each year due to more births than deaths.

Over the next decade, the number of people aged under 16 is projected to rise by 5% – 382,000 to 401,000. The population aged 16 to 64 will remain around 1,174,000, according to figures.

Meanwhile, the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to rise by nearly 50% from 33,000 to 48,000.

Official population projections are produced every second year at the request of the UK National Statistician and Registrars General for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The figures are used in government policy development, in areas such as education, housing, healthcare and pensions.

Shifts in population structure will affect Government priorities

The Northern Ireland population is projected to reach 1.9 million by 2020.

The projections are created by assuming future fertility, mortality and migration rates based on the latest trends.

Their primary purpose is to provide a picture of the future size and age structure of Northern Ireland's population. These population projections are widely used in policy development – for matters such as housing, healthcare, education and pensions.

Importantly, the projections show a large increase in the number of older people there will be.

Numbers of those aged 65 and over are projected to increase by a quarter in the next decade (2012-2022).

Within this group, the population aged 85 and over are projected to rise by nearly 50% to 48,000 over the same period.

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