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Outline of the Committee’s Programme


The IUSSP charged this committee to address

issues surrounding a variety of kinds of Public programs, from pensions and medical care through poverty programs, family allowances and education. This topic does not include individual aging, health status, longevity, and disability that will be covered by a separate committee.

The IUSSP Council also suggested as examples of relevant topics

changing age distribution and political choice (do the elderly vote for pensions at the expense of child welfare); issues surrounding forecasting for government expenditure; whether declining proportion of children in the population leads to savings which help offset the cost of aging; consequences of fluctuation versus secular change.


The age structural dynamics of a population and Public policy are different but intertwined subjects. In order to understand their relationship, it is important to distinguish the nature and dynamics of each process, and to identify their interactions.

The twentieth century has been marked by striking demographic change, with demographic transitions having now spread across the globe. Mortality has declined in most countries, especially at younger ages; in the industrialized nations, life spans are at unprecedented highs. In spite of this general pattern, mortality increases still occur in some places at some times. HIV/AIDS threatens to significantly increase mortality at particular ages in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. In the Russian Federation, male mortality at the middle ages has risen in recent years. Fertility declines have been widespread, not just in the developed countries, but across much of Asia, most of Latin America and even in some parts of Africa. In some industrialized countries, fertility has declined well below replacement levels, and displays great variability over time. Several Asian countries are experiencing transient echoes of large and rapid fertility declines, echoes that have continuing significant social and economic consequences. Numerous other countries are in the early stages of fertility declines. Migration flows within and between regions and countries have grown, responding to an array of political, social, and economic forces.

Demographers have studied the determinants and characteristics of these transitions. There are useful robust analyses of the age pattern of fertility, mortality, and migration, as well as their determinants. Analyses of the determinants of demographic change include studies of proximate determinants, as well as broader explanations in terms of social, economic and cultural processes. The age structure of population is known to be an outcome and a summary index of its history of fertility, mortality and migration. The concept of population momentum captures the essential inertia of age-structural changes. More broadly, the signature of fertility/mortality transitions as well as of sudden changes in vital rates (such as the AIDS epidemic) will be written in age structures for generations. There is an important irreversibility in age structural change.. In addition to age structure, transitions influence other key demographic dimensions: marriage, family size and structure, patterns of kinship, the compositional structure of populations and their political subunits, and so on.

Turn now to policy, which Webster’s defines as "a principle or course of action chosen to guide decision-making." Public policy is concerned with a spectrum of decision-making. Important examples include: tax policy relating to income, wealth and their distribution;

policies concerning the allocation/distribution/delivery of services such as education and health services; economic and fiscal policy bearing on factors of production (labor force, capital, etc.) and their deployment among the various sectors of the economy; and institutional policies relating to governance, administration, regulatory procedures, social order, planning, and so on.. Public policy is shaped by planning (and analysis) and by issues of implementation. The time horizon of Public policy analysis varies with the institutional and national context – five-year plans were common in India and other developing economies, but the Public pension system in many countries has to be analyzed over a multigenerational time horizon. Political factors are usually key in the selection and implementation of policy – the time horizon of political interests is often short and political perspectives are often reversible.

The linkages between population age structure and Public policy may be illustrated by taking education as an example. It is well documented that education is a powerful determinant of fertility, mortality and migration. Also, largely as a consequence of policy concerning human capital and economic development, most countries today evidence increases over time in school enrolment, and in educational attainment of those who enroll, resulting in upward trends in the educational attainment of populations. Notwithstanding this general trend, gender gaps in education remain – in some countries at the level of elementary education, in other countries at the level of ultimate educational attainment by sex. The most elementary relationship between age structure and policy is that demand for education services will be high when the age structure of the population is young, with obvious corollaries regarding populations in transitions. Gender gaps have implications for gender differences in political and economic power, control over reproductive rights, economic well-being, and so on, and bear on policy in several areas. There are strong cohort effects: educational attainment may be higher in younger cohorts, so that, for example, in any given period, young women (15-24) are likely to be have very different reproductive behavior than do older ones (35 and above). Given the strong correlation between education and the distribution of mortality and disability, the younger and better educated cohorts are likely to live longer and healthier lives – with important consequences for policy relating to pensions and disability. Educational attainment has important links to productivity growth rates, so economic productivity may evolve quite differently in populations where educational attainment is rising rapidly than in those where it is saturating. Thus we find that age-structural dynamics and educational characteristics affect Public policies relating to education, economic development, pensions, retirement incentives, disability programs, gender differences—surely a complex web of relationships.

Public policies aim to improve the welfare of a population; population welfare in turn is determined and shaped by the needs of present and future population; a population’s needs and its potential are strongly shaped by its demographic composition – i.e., by age-structural transitions.. Perhaps the central issue is one of resource allocation, more particularly the allocation of national resources between different age-specific sub-groups in a population. Population age structure and Public policy issues should, therefore, be addressed from multidisciplinary perspectives to reflect their multidimensional impacts and repercussions. Approaches and concepts should be developed to examine the issues and questions at a range of geographical, administrative and sector levels, considering that approaches could be different for these different levels. The analyses should include all dimensions of social and economic polices.


The central focus of the committee’s work is the interaction between age-structural dynamics on policy.

Age-structural dynamics include a hierarchy of effects driven primarily by transitions in fertility, mortality and migration:

the population-level pattern of age and sex composition and number

changes in kinship patterns and family structure

changes in lifecycle roles and relationships

patterns of and changes in needs (human development, social and economic support, health, disability, employment, pensions) in different parts of the lifecycle

changes in preferences and behavior (e.g., labor force participation, fertility, consumption, savings, voting) over the lifecycle

momentum – irreversibility and speed of change in the short-run, permanent shifts in population character in the long-run.

Policy – national and international – is characterized by

policy domains – the target and scope of policy in demographic terms (e.g., educational policy aimed at ages below 15 versus education aimed at preparing people 15-24 to enter the labor force)

policy objectives – what needs policy aims to satisfy

policy impacts – demographic and socioeconomic consequences, intended and accidental

temporal, institutional, and political dimensions – inertia, memory, reversibility.

Recent demographic history has caused rapid and large age-structural changes that have caused, or are likely to cause, mismatches between the needs of population subgroups and the targets of policy. There are notable similarities but also substantial differences between these mismatches in the highly industrialized nations (with about 15 percent of world population) and the less developed nations.

The committee’s aim is to examine age-structural change in its various dimensions – dimensions that range from macro (population-level) to micro (individual and family) – and then to assess the mismatches between the needs of populations and the policies that seek to address these needs.

Figure 1 illustrates the conceptual scope of this mission. The categories in Figure 1 are indicative, not exclusive and not exhaustive.

5-pop-figoutline.gif (8787 octets)


The committee’s discussions reflect a tension between styles and levels of inquiry. On the one hand, there is agreement that high-quality, careful scientific work is central; on the other hand, there is a strong view that scientific ground is especially well tilled in areas that are of primary concern to the developed economies. To quote from some committee members (anonymously – we aim for a collective effect here),

"Public policies in developing countries are ad hoc, not based on information and, therefore, they lack coherence and coordination."

"[T]he imperatives [for our committee] arise from [the state of] the applied population and development field in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. To some degree the scholarly and applied agendas have come together for aging in developed countries. But for the questions that are immediate for 4/5 of the world’s population the need is to develop and then have available a conceptualized, researched and empirically justified evidence base that we can take to policy makers and politicians."

Thus a focus on well developed areas of science threatens to put us in the position of the drunk who, having lost his key on the street, searches for it under a street lamp "because the light is better there." And yet, good science requires clear and rigorous thought, and the need for clarity, discipline and rigor becomes the greater when we launch upon complex subjects which attract passionate involvement.

The committee appears to support rigorous thought and analysis, as well as the necessity of spending time and effort on issues of development. The program that follows attempts to serve both relevance and rigor.


The committee proposes the following activities. In a rough sense, we may divide the committee’s concerns into those that affect

countries in emergent demographic transitions (many African countries and some countries in Asia and Australasia), faced with substantial developmental challenges – here the science is relatively poorly developed, the percentage of world population involved is large;

countries in a later transitional stage (many Southeast Asian countries, possibly China, many Latin American countries) which are at the later stages of a fertility transition and are facing challenges of economic and institutional change – here the science is somewhat better developed, the percentage of world population is substantial;

post-transitional countries (the highly industrialized nations), which face challenges relating to aging, low fertility, the maintenance of productivity growth, and so on – here the science is most developed, the percentage of world population is small, but the concentration of economic power is large.

Activity 5.1 is a synthetic effort that aims to set the stage for much later effort. The current plans focus on emergent transitions, where the need for analysis and scientific effort is greatest. Activity 5.2 focuses on post-transitional societies but with a broader perspective informed by our broad viewpoint – while the populations here are not large, the countries are, however, central to the economy and development of the world. Activity 5.3 is really in two parts. One part focuses on emergent transitions – this may well be the area where the committee can make the most useful contribution in an area of great importance. The other part of activity 5.3 focuses on the later transitional stages – here the committee is able to exploit a considerable body of recent work and the emphases are different from those in the first part. Is it realistic to organize two meetings in these two areas? We are not sure – much depends on the members. We are sure that both are important and worthwhile. Activity 5.5 aims to satisfy the strong feeling that the committee needs to provide a platform for the exploration and discussion of the broadest range of issues relating age structure and Public policy.

5.1 WORKSHOP ON AGE STRuCTuRAL TRANSITION. Key Outcomes: Edited book of conference papers. First policy document: produced after the first workshop (1999) (committee).

5.2 CONFERENCE: OLD AGE AND FISCAL ISSuES.  Key Outcome: First Book based on conference papers.


One area of emphasis is AFRICA. Key outcomes: Book + Training Component (Approximately 20 People)

Another emphasis is on ASIA AND LATIN AMERICA.   Key Outcome: Book based on conference papers.

5.4 Session at 2001 general conference

5.5 WEB SITE FOR PAPERS ON AGE-STRuCTuRE AND DEVELOPMENT. Papers to be solicited (or commissioned, to use a phrase coined by the committee), refereed – editors to be drawn from the committee—and posted on the IUSSP web site. The committee will make efforts to PUBLICize these papers, to facilitate their publication in suitable form, and to promote debate and interaction about them.