How does the public view our ageing society? Are we overestimating the impact of an ageing society? How do we view changes to our health service and to our economy as a result of an ageing society? These are some of the questions explored through public attitudes data in this report.

The UK’s population is unquestionably ageing, leading to anticipated social changes that are already becoming apparent in policy. Health and the workplace are two areas of major projected change. While there is some degree of understanding of people’s attitudes towards older people, which are almost invariably negative, there is less understanding on people’s awareness and attitudes on some of the macro-level changes associated with an ageing society.

This report examines some of these issues through specially commissioned polling data as well as employing data from the British Social Attitudes Survey. We use a offer insights on public attitudes towards: health and personal responsibility for health; older people and the workplace; as well as general opinions on an ageing society.

The title of this report, ‘Population Ageing: Pomp or Circumstance’, refers to the debate as to whether the public believe that population ageing is pomp (or hype) or is circumstance. Perhaps the most direct evidence on this issue comes from agreement with the statement ‘as a society, we overestimate the effect of an ageing society’. We can observe that over two-in-five adults agree with this statement.

A report launched in conjunction with this paper (Gill and Taylor 2012)* critically examines this issue in a broader sense, and questions whether the ‘apocalyptic’ demographic scenarios that are sometimes predicted will become reality. The results in this paper suggest that public opinion does often tend towards a similar view in a number of cases. Further positive glimmers do appear among attitudes to planning an older Britain of the future through high levels of understanding of the link between healthy behaviours and living longer and healthier, and flexible attitudes towards older people and the workplace, particularly among younger people in the latter case. Our results also give some cause for consideration, as we find that those in lower socioeconomic groups may also be those least prepared for new policy directions aimed at improving the health of our ageing population, particularly in terms of taking greater personal responsibility for health.

Overall, our results also highlight the complexity among the attitudes held on an ageing society. The results in this report suggest that in reality, as with many social issues, the consequences of an ageing society are framed through political debate leaving a complex, and sometimes fraught, process for the public in disentangling the facts from the fiction.

Authors: Dylan Kneale, Mark Mason, Sally-Marie Bamford

*Gill, Jennifer and Taylor, David. (2012) Active Ageing: Live longer and prosper. London: UCL School of Pharmacy
A copy of the report is available for download below.

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