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Dr David Marshall, the director of census and population statistics, and NISRA chief executive and Registrar General Siobhan Carey revealing the new population total for Northern Ireland

Dr David Marshall, the director of census and population statistics, and NISRA chief executive and Registrar General Siobhan Carey revealing the new population total for Northern Ireland

PA

Dr David Marshall, the director of census and population statistics, and NISRA chief executive and Registrar General Siobhan Carey revealing the new population total for Northern Ireland

Today the initial findings of last year’s Northern Ireland census have been revealed, painting a broad picture of the country we live in.

And there can be little surprise that the population in Northern Ireland has increased — closing in on the 2 million mark. Though if the current rate of growth is maintained it will take another 15 years before that figure is reached.

The baby boomers of the 1950s and 1960s have reached retirement age, meaning there are now more elderly people around than ever before. There are 25% more over 65s than 10 years ago, 60,000 more than in 2011. People are living longer. But the real question is, has society adapted enough to help look after what is an ageing population?

Will we need as many school places in 20 years time? We already have a health service on its knees, will it be able to stand again despite the growing number of elderly people in society?

There are serious questions as to how we can cope in years to come if the population continues to grow, and grow older. All the more reason why our politicians should be at Stormont, doing that thinking, planning for the long term. 1,903,100 people are relying on them to make those decisions.

It will be another generation before there’s any relief to the growing needs of the population due to the number of young children (aged 0-4) decreasing by 9% from the last census, with experts predicting population will eventually reach a peak.

But this is just the taster. The main course is still to come in the autumn, and will provide some real insight into the direction Northern Ireland is heading.

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Details are still to be released about national identity, passports held, country of birth and sexual orientation. And of great interest will be the changing religious demographic of Northern Ireland.

Results of the 2011 census indicated that 45.1% of the population were Catholic or brought up Catholic, and 48.4% were from a Protestant or other Christian background. The gap between the two denominations had been closing.

More recent figures from 2016 show that among those of working age, 44% were Catholic and 40% Protestant.

The difference was even greater among schoolchildren, with 51% Catholic and 37% Protestant. Only among the over 60s was there a majority of Protestants with 57%, compared to Catholics on 35%.

Whatever change to the population demographic is revealed this autumn, it’s sure to have a major impact on the political landscape too.


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