Population ageing and democratic decision-making: Après nous le déluge?

By the year 2030, the worldwide share of people aged 60 years and older is estimated to grow by 65 per cent compared to 2015. This equates to an absolute increase from 901 million to 1.4 billion. By 2050, these projections imply an increase to roughly 2.1 billion. Moreover, the number of people aged 80 years or older is projected to grow from 125 million in 2015 to 434 million in 2050 (United Nations, 2017). Increasing life expectancy, reduced fertility, and the resulting ageing of larger cohorts foster this demographic trend, especially for the major share of industrial countries.

This unprecedented global population ageing has both diverse and substantial economic, sociological and political implications. As an example, ageing societies put pressure on social security systems and public welfare services (Casamatta & Batté, 2016). Specifically, it is likely that the interests and preferences of the elderly differ from those of the younger generations and, thus, ageing societies may have severe consequences for public votes. Importantly, population ageing may impose a higher hurdle for projects with long-term benefits and short-run costs such as climate change mitigation or educational expenditure (Ahlfeldt, Maennig, & Mueller, 2019). Similarly, welfare policies in various countries have been argued to be “elderly-biased” (Gamliel-Yehoshua & Vanhuysse, 2010; Tepe & Vanhuysse, 2010) and older voters have been shown to be more likely to oppose projects that benefit future generations when called to the ballots (Ahlfeldt, Maennig, & Steenbeck, 2019; Poterba, 1998). In addition, younger people are often less likely to vote than older people, thereby accentuating the problems arising by intergenerational conflicts (Goerres, 2007).

Several measures have been proposed to address the effects of population ageing on collective decision-making and increase youth voting turnout, including debt financing (Bowen et al., 1960), voter preregistration (Holbein & Hillygus, 2016), internet voting (Solop, 2004), lowering of the minimum voting age (Chan & Clayton, 2006; Rosenqvist, 2017), and allowing parents to vote on behalf of their minor children (Demeny, 2019; Van Parijs, 2006). Alternatively, decisions on investment-like reform projects that involve long-run benefits and short-run costs could be based on social cost-benefit analysis as previously suggested for “private value” environments (Osborne & Turner, 2010).

Assuming that future generations belong in the social welfare function, how can we appropriately address the effects of population ageing on collective decision-making?

Must-Read – den folgenden Artikel muss das Team in Vorbereitung auf das Kick-Off-Gespräch gelesen haben:





Weiterführende Literatur:

Ahlfeldt, G. M., Maennig, W., & Mueller, S. Q. (2019). The generation gap in direct democracy. CEPR Discussion Paper, 1–43.
Ahlfeldt, G. M., Maennig, W., & Steenbeck, M. (2019). Direct democracy and intergenerational conflicts in ageing societies. Journal of Regional Science, 60(1), 1–27.
Bowen, W. G., Davis, R. G., & Kopf, D. H. (1960). The Public Debt: A Burden on Future Generations? American Economic Review, 50(4), 701–706.
Casamatta, G., & Batté, L. (2016). The Political Economy of Population Aging. In J. Piggott & A. Woodland (Eds.), Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 381–444). Elsevier B.V.
Chan, T. W., & Clayton, M. (2006). Should the voting age be lowered to sixteen? Normative and empirical considerations. Political Studies, 54(3), 533–558.
Demeny, P. (2019). Pronatalist Policies in Low-Fertility Countries: Patterns , Performance , and Prospects. Population and Development Review, 12(1986), 335–358.
Gamliel-Yehoshua, H., & Vanhuysse, P. (2010). The Pro-Elderly Bias of Social Policies in Israel: A Historical-Institutional Account. Social Policy and Administration, 44, 708–726.
Holbein, J. B., & Hillygus, D. S. (2016). Making Young Voters: The Impact of Preregistration on Youth Turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 60(2), 364–382.
Osborne, M. J., & Turner, M. A. (2010). Cost Benefit Analyses versus Referenda. Journal of Political Economy, 118(1), 156–187.
Poterba, J. M. (1998). Demographic Change, Intergenerational Linkages, and Public Education. American Economic Review, 88(2), 315–320.
Rosenqvist, O. (2017). Rising to the Occasion? Youth Political Knowledge and the Voting Age. British Journal of Political Science, 54, 1–12.
Solop, F. I. (2004). Digital Democracy Comes of Age: Internet Voting and the 2000 Arizona Democratic Primary Election. In N. Kersting & H. Baldersheim (Eds.), Electronic Voting and Democracy (pp. 242–254). Springer Nature.
Tepe, M., & Vanhuysse, P. (2010). Elderly bias, new social risks and social spending: change and timing in eight programmes across four worlds of welfare, 1980-2003. Journal of European Social Policy, 20(3), 217–234.
United Nations. (2017). World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division. United Nations, (June), 53.
Van Parijs, P. (2006). The Disfranchisement of the Elderly, and Other Attempts to Secure Intergenerational Justice. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 27(4).

Wissenschaftlicher Partner:

Universität Hamburg

Betreuer der YES!-Teams und Autor des Themenvorschlags:

Steffen Müller

Steffen Müller

Steffen Müller ist Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter und Doktorand am Lehrstuhl für Wirtschaftspolitik an der Universität Hamburg. Während seines Studiums in Quantitative Finance und Economics (M.Sc.) an der Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, arbeitete er als Hilfswissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Weltwirtschaft (IfW). Neben seinem Interesse für statistische Modellierung und Prognosen untersucht er in einem seiner aktuellen Forschungsprojekte den Einfluss von Alters- und Geburtskohorteneffekten in direktdemokratischen Wahlentscheidungen. Seine weiteren Forschungsschwerpunkte liegen in den Bereichen Politische Ökonomie, Verhaltensökonomie und Sportökonomie. Darüber hinaus ist er Beiratsmitglied im Hanseatischen Börsenkreis der Universität Hamburg E.V.