Skip main navigation

The ageing population

We discuss how the standard pattern of our working lives is changing due to the demographics of an ageing population.
© University of Exeter

In the UK the official retirement age of 65 (and the associated budgets for pension provision) were set at a time when average life expectancy was in the low 70s. The retirement age is planned to increase to 67 over the next 10 years, but this has not kept pace with rising life expectancy.

According to the Office for National Statistics, (ONS) a child born today is likely to live to the age of 92, and be “economically active” well into their 80s. (If you are so inclined, you can check out your own life expectancy using the calculator the ONS has helpfully provided!)

Without delving into the full detail, it is clear from the ONS data summarised below that over the next 20 years a reducing number of people of “working” age will be supporting a growing number of “retirees”.

Table showing the age distribution of the UK population, 1976 to 2046 (projected). The chart shows that the percentage of the population aged 15years or under was 24.5% in 1976 and is projected to be 17.7% in 2046. The percentage of the population aged 16-64 years was 61.2% in 1976 and is projected to be 57.7% in 2046. The percentage of the population aged 65years or over was 14.2% in 1976 and is projected to be 24.7% in 2046. The population in total is projected to increase from 56,212,121 in 1976 to 76,342,235 in 2046

We will also need to be flexible in terms of when and how we work and not rely on the continued existence of 20th century working patterns and expectations…

For example, a very generalised “traditional” working pattern in the industrialised west might consist of an extended period of full time study (at a low cost until recently) followed by work (with a possible break for childcare) followed by retirement as early as 55 in some cases.

What are the implications of these demographic changes for the basic structures of working life that are so deeply embedded in our society?

© University of Exeter
This article is from the free online

Building Your Career in Tomorrow’s Workplace

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education