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Australian Demography for Dummies (by Edward Drabik)

In order for Australia to maintain the proportion of the population aged 65 and over at present levels, enormous numbers of immigrants would be required, starting in 1998 at 200 000 per annum, rising to 4 million per annum by 2048 and to 30 million per annum by 2098. By the end of next century with these levels of immigration, our population would have reached almost one billion.

By Edward Drabik [1]

Can immigration offset an ageing population?

A 1999 Australian parliamentary research paper, entitled "Population Futures for Australia: the Policy Alternatives", looked at the claim that immigration could offset an ageing population. It found that in order to maintain the proportion of the population aged 65 and over at present levels,

"enormous numbers of immigrants would be required, starting in 1998 at 200 000 per annum, rising to 4 million per annum by 2048 and to 30 million per annum by 2098. By the end of next century with these levels of immigration, our population would have reached almost one billion."

The paper concluded:

"It is demographic nonsense to believe that immigration can help to keep our population young. No reasonable population policy can keep our population young."

UN Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution?

The UN has also examined this issue. Its report, entitled "Replacement Migration: Is It A Solution to Declining and Ageing Population?", often cited as proving the case for replacement migration, actually came to the completely opposite conclusion. The authors concluded that the scale of immigration needed to change the demographic profile of a whole country is so large as to be “out of reach”. For example, to combat the effect of aging population in South Korea (a very rapidly aging society) almost the entire population of the earth would have to move there by 2050!

British Government: Migrants grow old too!

As a British government report summed up in 2001:

“The single reason why even large constant net migration flows would not prevent support ratios from falling in the long term is that migrants grow old as well! Although a steady large inflow of young migrants would continue to boost the working-age population, before long it would start adding to the retirement-age population, and a four-to-one (say) potential support ratio could not be maintained.”

The same British report came to this conclusion:

“Immigration policies should be governed by political and humanitarian objectives, and not by demographic considerations."

Council of Europe: Migration cannot reverse ageing trends

The Council of Europe came to the same conclusion in a 2000 report:

“Migration flows cannot in future be used to reverse trends in population ageing and decline in most Council of Europe countries. The flows required would be too large and it would be impossible to integrate them into the economy and society.”

So, unless the immigrants in question are miraculously immune to the ageing process, using immigration to offset population ageing is a demographic nonsense. Yet, pro-immigrationists continue to peddle this ridiculous argument even though they must know by now that it is utterly fallacious.

NOTES

[1] This article was originally posted as a comment on
http://theconversation.edu.au/new-migration-council-to-fight-for-a-bigger-australia-7895#comment_53165 and is republished here with Edward Drabik’s permission.

Comments

The only other way of maintaining a young population would be to ensure couples have very large families and die young! This would avoid the financial burden of an "ageing population" so dreaded by economists, politicians and growth-ists. No population can be kept young, unless they die early. Just as any individual must age one year every year, whole populations must age. It's illogical and devoid of common-sense to condemn "ageing populations", and a lack of respect for older generations to consider them a disadvantage and a heavy burden to societies.

Birth rates started declining in the late 1960s, and have been falling ever since. For the last 20 years or so the birth rate has fallen below the replacement rate — meaning that without migration Australia’s population would eventually begin to fall.

We must stop seeing our ageing population as a burden. We need to think about the opportunities it can offer both socially and economically. We must remove the barriers to employment, offer learning and training opportunities throughout lifespans, encourage intergenerational conversations and cross-age mutual partnerships, and honour the skills and services that older people provide - usually voluntarily.

Increased migration cannot prevent our population from ageing. This is because migrants who come to Australia will age along with the rest of the population. It would end up a big Ponzi-like growth scheme because every year the increases to immigration would need to become progressively larger and larger to take account of the ageing of the migrants themselves!

Birth rates have been falling in all the advanced industrial countries, and many are currently lower than Australia’s. Low birth rates largely reflect increased choices available to women, including access to birth control, access to education and employment, and higher living standards.

Justify high immigration as needed to dilute our ageing population is another population myth.