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Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 17:34 GMT
Greying West 'needs immigrants'
retirement home
Populations are ageing rapidly in many countries
Most developed countries will have to open their doors to millions of immigrants because their populations are ageing so fast, according to a United Nations report.

Declining birth rates mean increasing ranks of pensioners, with a diminishing work force to support them.



Japan would need 10 million immigrants every year until 2050 to maintain its 1995 ratio of workers to pensioners

Without mass immigration, the only alternative would be a big increase in the age of retirement, the UN report adds.

One country facing severe problems is Italy which is set to lose between a quarter and a third of its population within 50 years.

By the year 2050, the average Italian will be 53 years old compared to 41 now, and 41% of the country will be over 60.

"Governments are going to have to look at these numbers," said Joseph Chamie, director of the UN Population Division. "These are cold sobering statistics. There is nothing political about them."

"People have become accustomed to certain benefits and lifestyles. The sooner [governments] address these issues the easier the problem will be."

Click here for chart showing ageing populations

The report looks at the likely population trends over the next 50 years in eight countries with fertility rates below 2.1 children per woman, the level required to keep the population constant.

These are Italy, South Korea, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.


Elderly person
Paying for the elderly will become an increasing problem
Japan's population has aged faster in the last 50 years than any other industrialised country due to low birth rates and long life expectancy.

To keep its work force steady Japan would need to bring in 647,000 immigrants a year until 2050.

But to maintain its current ratio of workers to pensioners, it would need 10 million a year.

This would mean an enormous change for a country where 99.3% of the population are native Japanese. The alternative would be to increase the retirement age to 77.

Retirement

In Italy, about four working people currently support each retired person, but this figure is set to drop to 1.5 by the year 2050.

The report suggests Italy would need to add 2.3 million immigrants a year to maintain the current ratio, or raise retirement to 77.

To keep its current support ratio without immigration, Britain would have to increase the age of retirement to 72.

South Korea, at the other end of the spectrum, would have to keep people working until 82.

Greying EU

The UN says these population trends pose crucial questions for governments about future immigration policies, what age they set for retirement and what benefits they provide for the elderly.

The problems appear more pressing in Europe than in the United States.

According to present trends, the US is expected to grow from just under 280 million people to nearly 350 million in the next 50 years.

By contrast, the 15 European Union countries will see their combined population fall from 375 million to 330 million.

The greying EU would need 674 million immigrants over the next 50 years to keep its ratio of workers to pensioners constant, or 79.4 million to maintain a steady workforce, according to the report.

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See also:

21 Mar 00 | Europe
Italy looks to migrants
13 Jan 00 | Americas
US population to 'double by 2100'
22 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
World population still climbing
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