The debate about the data

How we respond to the Ageing Society depends on how the demographic process is portrayed. And therefore, we first need to look at how the demographics are measured.

How should the population ageing be measured? The importance of this debate lies in the notion that no measurement tool is neutral. Indeed, each tool depicts the Ageing Society in its own characteristic way. At the same time, this depiction does affect the policies that are created in response. For example, if the Ageing Society is mainly depicted in terms of the frailty of the oldest people (“they are vulnerable”), then care policies may be developed. Whereas if the Ageing Society is mostly portrayed as the challenge of a shrinking work force (“there are less people in working age”), then work and pension policies may be created. (By the way, the importance of this depiction is one of the reasons why we examine how Swiss newspapers depict the Ageing Society.)

How the population ageing should be measured and depicted, is the outset of a debate. There are four common indicators to measure the population ageing: the median age, the proportion of persons over 65 years old, the proportion of persons over 80 years old, and the old age dependency ratio. The latter shows the ratio between the population group over 65 years old and the population group between 15-64 years old (e.g. for every person over 65 years old, there are three persons between 15-64 years old).

These four common ageing indicators are today virtually ubiquitously used to measure the population ageing, also by large international organisations as the United Nations or the European Union. However, there is also criticism: those indicators would e.g. give a false impression of ‘dependency’ (“a 65-year old person is not dependent”), or a false impression of ‘old’ (“a 65-year old person is not old”). Still, the use of the common ageing indicators remains dominant today – the future will show whether it stays that way. Certainly, to be continued.