Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland population to hit almost 2m by 2026, with 25% rise in people aged 65 and over

By Brett Campbell

Northern Ireland's population is expected to reach almost two million by 2026, with an explosion in the number of people aged over 65.

The population here is projected to grow by 4.2% to 1,939,700, according the latest data from the Northern Ireland Statistical Research Agency (NISRA).

The number of people in every council area is expected to increase, with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, and Lisburn and Castlereagh districts, seeing the largest rise of 8.9%.

Derry City and Strabane will see the lowest growth of 0.1%.

The over-85 group will expand by more than 40% in five of the 11 councils, with Mid Ulster seeing a boom of 48.1%.

The number of people aged 65 and over is expected to increase by 25% across the region, with this proportion of the population set to outnumber children by 2028.

Dr Ian Shuttleworth, senior lecturer in population geography at Queen's University, said we were experiencing "a second demographic transition" almost a century after the first.

"If society remains structured the way it is there will be major ramifications in relation to school provision and how we care for the elderly, but it doesn't have to be a problem," he warned.

He said the ageing population and declining birth rate was a common trend emerging throughout the developed world.

"It's partly due to advancements in medical technology, but falling fertility rates are a bit of a puzzle, but obviously linked to lifestyle changes," he added.

The number of children among the overall population here is expected to increase by only 0.1%, with six out of the 11 council areas seeing a decline. The number of pre-school aged children will fall by 7.8%.

Dr Shuttleworth said the decrease was not alarming as we have a relatively high fertility rate in comparison to western countries, and the fastest growing and youngest population in the UK.

"We aren't that far off the required birth rate of 2.1 children per woman which is required in order to ensure a steady population," he pointed out.

In 2014 the birth rate here was 1.9, but it is projected to rise slightly to 2.0 by 2024.

The academic said the population could actually start to fall in the long-term as those in the older category die.

NISRA projects a 0.2% growth in the number of people who are of working age by 2026.

However, six of the 11 council areas will experience a reduction.

Derry City and Strabane district will see a fall of 4.5%, with the Causeway Coast and Glens district seeing a similar drop.

Dr Shuttleworth said the changes presented challenges but also opportunities.

"We don't know what the full impact of automation is going to be," he said.

"The religious balance will also be affected, but the main issue will be how we care for the elderly - but if the older people are healthy then it won't be a problem at all.

"It places huge significance on the importance of healthy living for middle aged people now, this doesn't have to be a time bomb."

Belfast Telegraph

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