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Making the UK more resilient to age-structural change and longevity: Translating academic evidence into policy

The UK is in an historically unique period. During the 20th Century life expectancy gradually increased and the population slowly aged. Increases in life expectancy are driven by changing mortality rates and in particular the current decline in death rates amongst those over 65 is leading to an increase in the number and proportion of adults at very old ages. Population ageing, or age structural change, is driven primarily by low rates of childbearing, so that the average age of the population increases as fewer young people enter the population. As a result, not only are individuals living longer, they are doing so within a UK population which is in itself growing older. To grow old in a society where most people are young is fundamentally different from doing so in a society where most people are old (Harper 2016). In demographically young populations, there are high proportions of economically active individuals who may produce the wealth needed to support dependents, old and young. However, these societies may not place much emphasis on the wellbeing of older people as they comprise a small minority of the overall population. Conversely, demographically old populations have a lower proportion of economically active individuals and thus the responsibility of providing for old age dependency may be increasingly fall to the older person themselves. It is likely that the 21st century will see a continuation of these two distinct but related trends.