00:59 GMT18 February 2020
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    Developed countries across the globe continue to show disturbing ageing trends that might dramatically change the societies we live in. Prof. Stuart Gietel-Basten from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology explained how the countries can tackle the problems of ageing.

    Sputnik: Official figures have revealed that the birth rate in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level for at least 80 years. Firstly, can you tell me how significant these findings are and is it really that surprising?

    Stuart Gietel-Basten: It's not significant in the sense that the demographic impact of this that in Britain, for example, changes in migration are going to be much more important in shaping short term overall population trends and so until we see whether or not this trend continues into the long term I don't anticipate this to be a major change.

    On the other hand, it is significant, because it's part of a general trend within many other countries which are characterized as having kind of high fertility, in the United Kingdom, but also in Northern Europe and in the United States where we've always assumed fertility would stay fairly high but it's actually starting to turn down.

    That's why it might be tempting to say "Well this is Brexit or something" or "this is just uncertainty around political uncertainty at the moment" but it's not just confined to England and Wales, we actually see this in other parts of the world as well.

    Sputnik: Why are these figures so low but also what effect is it having on society in England and Wales?

    Stuart Gietel-Basten: We shouldn't get too carried away - it's not that low. I live in Hong Kong where fertility is just over 1; in South Korea is even lower than that so some of my colleagues here, in this part of the world, to be worried about a fertility rate, which is at like 1.7/1.8, is what they would really hope that they had a fertility rate like that.

    So it's not really that low. Other factors will play into dealing with how we cope with, for example, population ageing, if we have a low fertility rate which is sustained in the long run, forgetting about migration that will lead to an increasing rates of population ageing but at the same time if our populations are getting healthier and they're getting better educated and they're getting better skilled and possibly getting richer as well, then we might be able to, we are more able to cope with more rapid population ageing which may come about through low fertility.

    Sputnik: For the past decade at least in Britain, we've been told that we're moving to an aging population. How do these figures match up with an ever-ageing population and moreover what can be done to encourage individuals to have children?

    Stuart Gietel-Basten: All populations are always ageing. That's just a fact. The question is whether or not the institutions that we have in place are fit for purpose. Whether it's the pension system or the NHS, is it able to cope with these challenges that will bring the come about through increased population ageing and will it be able to cope with new diseases or growing trends in certain diseases, for example in Alzheimer's.

    Will we be able to cope with the challenges that we will need to invest in social care as much, if not more than, perhaps in primary healthcare. These are the kind of bigger issues around institutional reform. Now, you say about encouraging people to have more children...

    Firstly, you could say arguably, it's not there's a moral question around encouraging people that have more children and when we say encouraging people to have more children, it's really about encouraging women to have more children.

    Now, morally, one can easily make the argument that it's not the place of the state, to encourage or cajole people into having children just to bail out these institutional systems that are in place.

    A more practical issue is that just having more children really doesn't solve the problems brought about by ageing. Babies don't work; you've got to wait 20 years, more than 20 years for any baby that's born today to actually become productive in society in terms of contributing to the economy.

    Whilst it might look good on a spreadsheet, that you have more children in very practical terms, it really is a very crude and pretty useless way of offsetting the genuine challenges of population ageing, which are relating to our social institutions, like pensions like health care, like Social Security, and so on. There are much better ways of dealing with this then encouraging people to have more children.

    Views and opinions, expressed in the article are those of Stuart Gietel-Basten and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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