Thursday, 2 May 2013

Census 2011 : Demographics II - Its meaning for Wales

What are the possible consequences of an ageing population?
(Pic : The Guardian)
Firstly, I forgot to include the data I used yesterday (2001, 2011).

Following on from yesterday's post, I'm going to look at some of the possible implications of the demographic/age changes in more detail. But to summarise – for those of you who can't be bothered to sift through the last post:
  • Wales' mean age was 40.6, median 41 – second highest of the regions of EnglandandWales.
  • 18.3% of Wales' population in 2011 was aged 65+ - a rise of 0.9% on 2001 – with much higher levels in rural central and northern Wales.
  • 45.2% of Welsh residents were aged between 30-64 – a fall of 2.3% on 2001.
  • The percentage of school age children fell by 3.4% nationally, but there was no change with regard pre-school children (0-4 y.o.).
  • The percentage of young adults (18-29) rose by 1.8% on 2001, seeing bigger rises in urban areas of Wales, with the notable exception of Ceredigion.

Impact on the Welsh language

Back in January, I posted my musings on the fall in Welsh speakers. I made several guesses as to why that happened.

Firstly, the mortality and migration issues. Y Fro – Anglesey aside - isn't as old as I was expecting. However, all 4 Y Fro counties do have above-average levels of pensioners, and they've also seen some of the biggest increases in pensionable populations since 2001 – again, in particular Anglesey.

When you cross-reference this with the falls in Welsh speakers, I think this will have had an impact in Ceredigion and possibly Carmarthenshire, but less so in Anglesey or Gwynedd. The latter two didn't see as sharp a drop in Welsh-speakers as the southern half of Y Fro. So I think mortality at least – an older population, including a fair chunk of Welsh speakers, dying naturally - is just one small bit player in a complicated set of circumstances.

It's hard to tell whether "elderly migration" had a similar impact. As far I can tell, the figures aren't broken down by age. I suspect it will have, especially if those migrating aren't Welsh-speakers. But as I pointed out then, significant numbers of migrants to Y Fro are from other Welsh local authorities – especially into Ceredigion – while English migration isn't as pronounced compared to European immigration or those from further afield.

When you look at the rise in "young adults" in Ceredigion alone, I was probably right to include the expansion of university education – and an increased in-migration of non Welsh-speaking 18-21 year olds – as a possible factor.

There's clearly a shift towards the young in terms of Welsh speakers overall. But
will falls in  numbers of school age children in Y Fro cause problems when
planning Welsh-medium school  places in the future? As well as impact
the number of Welsh speaker nationally.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

One thing I did say, was that there was cause to be upbeat because of a clear, positive "demographic shift" towards the young in terms of numbers and percentage of Welsh-speakers. Blog Menai has also pointed out that amongst the over-20s, Welsh speakers are on average younger than non-Welsh speakers. However, viewing this in itself as a possible saviour of the Welsh language might be a little over-optimistic.

Ceredigion already had one of the lowest percentages of school age children, and it's quite likely that in 2021, school age children might fall into a single figure percentage of the Ceredigion population. Gwynedd and Anglesey also have fairly "low" percentages of school-age children resident. Although there's a definite demographic "bulge", with Welsh-speakers overall becoming younger, in terms of strength in numbers it's unlikely to make that much of a difference.

There'll be more Welsh-speaking young people (under 30s) in 20-30 years time for sure – perhaps 30%+ of the population even outside Y FroBut they're still going to be outnumbered by pensioners in terms of sheer numbers. Quite a few of them are likely to leave and bring up children elsewhere. So as much as shoring up the heartland is important, it's equally important to meet demand for Welsh-medium education elsewhere in Wales too.

So my guess is the physical number of Welsh speakers will go up nationally. But if that doesn't exceed the pace of general population growth - topped up by non-Welsh speaking elderly migrants - then Welsh speakers as a percentage of the population will stagnate or continue a slow decline  (inside and outside Y Fro) or struggle to breach 20% of the Welsh population.

But it's worth pointing out that demographic projections aren't an exact science and tend to "wobble" quite often.

Impact on the economy

The main factor here is the "productive population" - the numbers of working age people with jobs, generating wealth measured as gross value added (GVA).

GVA is divided amongst the total population to get headline GVA per capita figures. That means pensioners, temporary and long-term unemployed or disabled and school age children are included - not just the "working" working age population.

GVA is rural areas is low anyway. That's perhaps because sectors like agriculture and tourism don't generate as much for the economy as a whole compared to financial services or manufacturing - the latter two generally based in urban areas and city regions.

In parts of Wales with higher numbers of disabled people, pensioners, or higher numbers of those in full-time study too (in the case of Gwynedd and Ceredigion) - the "productive population" is going to be significantly lower than somewhere like Cardiff. Therefore, an already weak GVA is divided by more (statistically) "unproductive" heads, producing weaker GVA per capita figures that it perhaps otherwise should be.

So there's probably a warning that, although GVA is useful in measuring economic strength, it isn't the be all and end all of an economic story on the ground.

Impact on key public services

The main issue here as I see it is the dependency ratio. Dependency ratios measure the relative demographic "burden" placed on an area's working age population by those outside the labour market (children and pensioners). You can have separate child dependency ratios and old dependency ratios too.

The higher the dependency ratio, the more a government has to spend or provide things like education, pensions and social services for children and the elderly. It's fair to point out though that some pensioners might still be in the labour market, and the retirement age is rising to 66 by 2020.

It's calculated to international standards by:
  • The number of full-time school children (defined as 0-15 by international measures) and pensioners (65+) added together
  • Divided by the working age population (15-64)
  • Times by 100
Dependency ratios nationally and in each local authority in 2011
(Click to enlarge)

In Wales, the dependency ratio is at 54.6, compared to 51 for the UK as a whole. That means Wales bares a slightly higher "burden" of dependents than the rest of the UK. We probably knew that anyway.

However, at individual local authority level, some of the figures are jaw-dropping. Five local authorities have a dependency ratio above 60.

Old age dependency ratios are perhaps more important here
, as they're usually out of the workforce permanently and place a greater relative burden on health and personal social services, whilst school-age children will eventually join the workforce.

Some Welsh local authorities currently have levels of old age dependency that the UK as a whole isn't expecting to see until the 2050s! (30-40) And all of them are in the "West Wales & The Valleys" EU region. Remember what I said about GVA figures earlier. Is it any wonder why the Welsh economy struggles if these are the sorts of numbers bandied about?

With the old age dependency ratio in Wales increasing, who's
going to pay for all the extra elderly in the future? Will people
my age have to work for significantly longer than current pensioners?
(Pic : The Guardian)
Wales, as a whole, has an old age dependency ratio of 28.4. So there's roughly 3 working age people for every 1 pensioner. In some Welsh authorities, it's already lower than that that.

That doesn't necessarily mean there'll be strain on things like social services and health, as long as people have a long healthy life expectancy so they don't need to rely on those things in the first place.

If we don't live healthier lives in old age, then it'll t means we'll need to consider immigration of 16-40 year olds to work, pay tax and support pensioners; as well as a higher birth rate – especially in rural Wales - to provide more sustainable levels of working age people down the line.

It's also significantly more expensive to provide services in sparsely-populated rural areas than urban areas for a whole host of reasons. It will probably be better (for the state) for the elderly to live somewhere like Cardiff compared to Conwy. But peace and quiet is something retired people might want. We either need to either quietly discourage that, or come up with ways to live with it.

When you factor in things like a higher relative percentage of working age people with disabilities too – who aren't counted as dependents, but who don't work - there are still major challenges facing parts of Wales.

Impact on politics

It's unclear. The number of pensioners hasn't massively changed nationally since 2001, but in individual constituencies and regions, the numbers of pensioners could have an impact on politics locally.

It's anecdotal evidence, but older people are generally more conservative, more eurosceptic and in Y Fro neither likely or unlikely to speak Welsh as well as being cultural nationalists (both Welsh and "British"). They also turn out more at election time.

Another thing that the figures highlight is that 40-70 year olds are too dominant in politics at all levels in Wales. Maybe that's for good reason, because people want to elect someone with "life experience". Perhaps now you can see why those aged under 30 are switching off from politics altogether, or more interested in taking up single-issue causes/activism as opposed to institutions like local councils, the Assembly Westminster and the European Parliament.

There's a massive risk of creating a generation gap in Welsh politics that will be hard to close because young people will never become interested in mainstream party politics in the first place. It's entirely plausible that political parties in Wales will struggle to recruit new members and candidates in the long-term, because politics has effectively turned its back on an entire generation.

There are numerous examples proving younger people can be elected to office at all levels. But having one or two "token" young politicians in local government, or putting them in the ghetto of student/"yoof" politics, doesn't cut it if politics wants to be representative.

For example, based on the census figures, the Assembly should currently have at least 9 AMs aged between 18-29 and 10-11AMs aged over 65. Though they're not far off the latter, they fall way, way short of the former.

Unfortunate implications in The Valleys

The general "youth" in the valleys could be down to at least two factors.

The first one is shorter life expectancies than the rest of Wales, dragging average ages – especially means – downwards.

The second one could be a result of people having children younger, including teenage pregnancies. This means that the percentages of young adults and school age children are boosted, as there would have been more young adults and 15-16 year olds having children than the Welsh average over the census period – though the numbers of teenage pregnancies are falling.

Now, teenage pregnancies aren't a "good thing". However, in the long-term it could help keep old age dependency ratios in the Valleys at a more sustainable level, but that'll only work if the economy improves. Those kids being born to younger parents will need to be well brought up, well-educated and have decent jobs waiting for them when they're older.

How can we keep Wales "young"?

I don't know what a "good" old age dependency ratio would be, but I'd guess we should aim to get it down towards 20% nationally, allowing a bit of variation between local authorities.

First and foremost – boost the birth rate. However, it's nowhere near as easy as that, as having children is dependent on a whole host of other things.

Do we need to place less emphasis on owning property
as an investment? Do we need to come up with ways to build homes
cheaply and retain younger families?
(Pic :

There's the issues of housing and housing costs in general. We should probably not place as much emphasis on homes as an investment, as well as encouraging long-term renting and perhaps see a sustained, managed decline in house prices. One way to do that would be to increase supply, and I've covered that before. We need to build more starter homes, and those homes have to be affordable, perhaps using innovative methods of construction.

Next, there's the question of tackling under-employment. We need better paid and higher-value added jobs, particularly in rural parts of Wales, to prevent young adults and those in their 30s-40s from migrating away, leaving only the old - a ticking time bomb with regard key public services. Expanding apprenticeships and providing large numbers of low-paying, low-skilled jobs is fine as a stop gap, but there needs to be something better too, so young families can actually establish themselves.

Retaining graduates – especially home grown ones - once they've graduated is linked to the above. It doesn't seem to be too much of a problem in places like Cardiff. However, if you stem the "brain drain" across Wales, it might convince employers and companies that they can set up higher-value added enterprises, which means better jobs, more money in the local economy and hopefully, eventually lead to more children.

How does Wales retain graduates from Welsh universities?
More importantly, how do we convince employers that we have
the right skill set in the first place?
(Pic : BBC Wales)
New communities designed from the outset to be family-friendly, as well as family-friendly working practises, would also go some way as to encourage a higher birth rate. The valleys, from an objective perspective, are in many cases ideal to bring up young children. We should make more of that, but that means getting to grips with some of the long-standing problems too. That'll mean a lot more than third sector "projects" and housing renewals.

I also mentioned earlier "positive discouragement" with regard elderly people moving to rural Wales, and instead moving to urban parts of Wales to spread the older population out a bit more. By "positive discouragement" I mean doing things that might benefit a rural community as a whole, but put people off "seeking peace and quiet" : windfarms and energy projects, black metal festivals next to nursing homes, active agriculture (with all the noise and smells), planned expansion of larger rural towns, dogging, business parks, road improvements etc.


  1. We can start by reversing the plans for a massive expansion of Cardiff, which will suck the population and life out of the valleys. I am really taken by your modular homes idea, prefabrication is an excellent way to build low cost housing - it needs to be seriously examined. We also need coherent planning across natural regions, hence, and your suggestion for regional authorities.... in my case two "rural", North, and Mid & West Wales, and three "urban" based on our cities, Swansea, Cardiff and Newport. Brain drain, how about only giving the subsidy to students who study in Wales? Maybe even have a requirement that people who are trained by the state as doctors, dentists and nurses stay in Wales for, say, 5 years after qualifying (provided there are jobs?).

  2. by the way I do appreciate all the work and research you put into these posts - incredibly useful.

  3. Thanks Cibwr. I'm glad someone appreciates it, and it's the main thing that keeps me going to be honest.

    I support a planned expansion of Cardiff. By planned I mean proper communities, not houses just thrown down willy-nilly. I'd much rather population growth be centred in places that can cope economically as well as a socially than forcing people up into the valleys. Though the valleys shouldn't be neglected. I think proper regeneration, environmental improvements and transport links should be the focus there.

    I'm surprised we haven't seen any take up of modular houses, but I'm just a blogger. It seems sensible enough to me, but clearly people have other ideas. I imagine there would likely be concerns about their hardiness in the Welsh climate! I think they would be ideal in west and north west Wales for young families though.

    On the brain drain, I think setting lower tuition fees for professional degrees that we need more of might be one way of doing that. I'd like to see some sort of scholarship fund/gold-plated business start up scheme for Wales' "best and brightest" too - on condition they stay in Wales post-graduation.

    I think newly qualified doctors, dentists and nurses have to serve a certain period in the NHS for post-graduate training anyway, it's just they can go anywhere in the UK to do that.

  4. I live in coastal south Meirionnydd, and my mother has been in a council-run retirement home for some 3 years, so I tend to give some thought to a few of the issues raised here.

    You talk of 'a healthy old age', which will obviously reduce the strain on services and finances. Yet from personal observation, I have seen countless examples of elderly people from outside the area, outside of Wales, being brought straight to a local retirement. There are no restrictions on this. All that seems to matter is that they, or someone, can pay.

    Presumably because each 'client' means a profit for whoever runs the home. But I'm sure this does not take into account the bigger picture and the added costs - medicines and treatments, doctors' visits, trips to hospoital, strain on the ambulance service, etc. When you weigh it all up the profit made by the home owner stays with the home owner, but results in extra costs borne by already over-stretched and linked services.

    In their defence, in places like Barmouth, Tywyn, Aberdyfi, these retirement homes - or rather, their 'clients' - provide income for a host of largely self-employed people such as taxi-drivers, hairdressers, manicurists, assorted 'therapists', and others. Even undertakers. The same must be true around the coast from Tenby to Talacre.

    Additionally, these homes provide work for those working directly for the home owners. But as the numbers in the homes increase then workers have to found outside the area, invariably outside of Wales. Which inevitably impinges on the culture, language and identity of the area. In other words, the area becomes anglicised.Initially by those moving in, then reinforced by those who must be recruited to look after them.

    Putting it all together granny-farming is neither a dignified nor an economically viable element in a local economy. Especialy so in areas such as south Meirionnydd which has a worsening indigenous age structure due to youth emigration. So we must discourage the movement of elderly people into Wales. Because even if they arrive healthy it's inevitable that a 60-year-old will become dependent on support before a 20-year-old.

  5. My impression is that the growth of Cardiff is not organic, its at the detriment of the valleys, with the population coming from the valleys. Nothing suggests that the development is sustainable, that the infrastructure is in place or will be put in place until after the development. All towns change, grow and is some cases decline. The growth planned for Cardiff is unprecedented.

  6. Sorry for the late response.

    Jac - "Granny farming" - I'll have to use that term more often. I don't doubt what you say. You can perhaps understand why they would build elderly care homes in Gwynedd or Ceredigion than the centre of Newport on in Flintshire.

    Paradoxically, when you think of some of the services the "unwell elderly" need, they could be putting their well being at risk by moving somewhere are sparsely populated at mid Wales. I think many pensioners moving to Wales under their own steam might not expect to require local services. But when they do - as you say - it might cause strain that wouldn't otherwise be there, even if it might support other jobs.

    Cibwr - I think the numbers bandied around are excessive, but I don't question that Cardiff is growing much faster than other parts of Wales organically. When I mentioned "planned expansion", what I meant was putting all the infrastructure in place beforehand, not fitting it in after the homes have been built as happens in other parts of the country.

    I would be opposed to just plonking down Barrett boxes and cul-de-sacs - Cardiff or elsewhere. However, I'd rather they be built in Cardiff (or the larger settlements around Cardiff), than building 3/4 bed executive homes somewhere like Tonyrefail or Maerdy.

  7. Cynog Dafis has touched on some of these issues around not wanting Wales to be "unspoilt". Superb article in my view- .

    We're in a major developmental slump in Wales. No economy = no Wales.

  8. Thanks for the link, Anon. I read that with interest (as well as Prof. Calvin Jones's piece on technology). I might come back to this issue myself soon.

    I think "sustainability" and economic development have to go hand in hand. One part of "sustainability" must also be to ensure that demographic trees don't become either too top-heavy or bottom-heavy for the sake of public services.

    But I don't think we should go all out and allow development for its own sake, especially in environmentally sensitive areas. I mentioned modular housing, for example, which could be a better way of building homes in some parts of Wales. The logical move would be to try and get established housebuilders on board for that - therefore matching "sustainability" with the economy.

    I fear that if nothing's done, all rural Wales will become is a nice place for people to come and die. There'll be no tranquility to preserve because it'll become a green and grey desert, devoid of all vitality.

  9. Completely agree, Owen. We don't want development for the sake of it, and I don't think shale gas has been justified yet (especially in terms of where would the revenues go). But a presumption against development risks fossilising Wales. These debates were extensively aired after the 1979 referendum defeat. Gwyn Alf Williams and other historians talked about a new tendency of fossilising Wales and "preserving" it in folk museums, whilst ignoring the need to actually give the country a material purpose. I find this alot amongst some fellow nationalists. The landscape generates emotional feelings and patriotic feelings and it's alot harder to feel emotional about having an increased GVA or increased productivity, especially as difficult side-effects often come alongside development. The temptation to support fossilisation is very easy, just as it was in the 80s.

    What we need to get away from is opposition to renewable energy developments. I know onshore wind can rile people, but i'm even starting to see opposition to solar farms, at a time when solar tech is reaching a really viable market price. If we send out the message that Wales doesn't welcome solar because the panels look too manmade and "spoil the view", then I really will despair.

  10. Thanks, Anon. Agree on "fossilising" and the folk museum argument. I think some of that stems from a feeling that Wales' natural heritage has been excessively exploited in the past, so we need to "protect what's ours" in the present, even if that sometimes comes across as a pig-headed small-c conservatism and contrarianism. Even the anti-Welsh comments you see are a bastardised example of it, just with a different set of criteria.

    Every miserable, cantankerous git in Wales wants to be like the Llewelyn statue in Cardiff City Hall - raising a fist and being the lone voice in the wilderness, fighting against something except not quite knowing what.

    I've noticed quite a few planning apps. going submitted in the Bridgend area screening for solar farms. I don't think there've been any complaints raised - yet. But there are worries there in terms of there being some opposition for the sake of opposition at some point.

    I've decided though I'm going to come back to this on the blog sometime early next week (hopefully).

  11. So true! We have generally not had a voice for so long (and even under devolution people feel frustrated) that we know what we're against (exploitation etc) but not what we're for, in terms of activity or development. A wider blog on this would be great and i'd be sure to leave a comment.