Population aging: The transformation of societies by Donald T. Rowland. Springer, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York, London, 2012. 292 pp. ISBN 978-94-007-4049-5 (hard cover). A$331.99. ISBN 978-94-007-4050-1 (ebook).
Article first published online: 21 MAR 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Australasian Journal on Ageing © 2013 ACOTA
Australasian Journal on Ageing
Volume 32, Issue 1, page 68, March 2013
How to Cite
Cullen, D. (2013), Population aging: The transformation of societies by Donald T. Rowland. Springer, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York, London, 2012. 292 pp. ISBN 978-94-007-4049-5 (hard cover). A$331.99. ISBN 978-94-007-4050-1 (ebook). Australasian Journal on Ageing, 32: 68. doi: 10.1111/ajag.12033
- Issue published online: 21 MAR 2013
- Article first published online: 21 MAR 2013
‘Old age’, Tolstoy wrote, ‘is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man’. Similarly, the causes, consequences and policy implications of population ageing for societies seem little understood. The key, perhaps, lies in another quote from Tolstoy, ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. Herein lies the strength of Donald Rowland's latest contribution to the sociology of ageing.
Rowland is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Australian National University's School of Sociology. He has published monographs, and numerous papers in academic journals and books, focusing on migration, the family, ageing, and national population changes. Rowland has been dealing with the issue of population ageing for more than 30 years, beginning with Sixty-five Not Out: Consequences of the Ageing of Australia's Population, which was published by the Institute of Public Affairs (NSW) in 1981.
Rowland's latest contribution, Population Aging: The Transformation of Societies, examines the causes and consequences of population ageing across the countries that have the oldest or largest aged populations in Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia. This international comparison allows him to draw cogent conclusions about the implications of population ageing for different societies given the relative risks they face from population ageing and their resilience as changes occur.
Rowland creates a typology of countries around a series of indicators of population ageing, which include: female population momentum, fertility rates, life expectancy, population growth rates, dependency ratios, and population shares and the rate of change in these shares. He then uses this typology to examine the relative risks from population ageing for these countries.
For example, although all developed countries studied exhibit a trend towards high proportions in the older ages, there is a significant difference in risk identified between the different groups of developing countries. While countries in both Group 1 (North America and Australasia) and Group 2 (Western and Northern Europe) both have lower relative risk, this outcome is driven by different factors. The lower risk associated with Group 1 is driven mainly by a positive female population momentum and continued growth in the working age population (compared to negatives for all other groups). The lower risk for Group 2, even though it has small negative growth rates for female population momentum and the labour force, is driven by the much smaller rate of growth in its oldest population groups than Group 1. That is, its population has already aged to a much greater extent.
Rowland also identifies a number of measures of resilience: economic resources (GDP per capital, level of government debt, labour productivity and utilisation), human capital (education and health) and policies (acceptance of the need for reform, proactivity, support for families). His key finding is that the division of countries with high and low relative risks bears some relation to the division of countries with more and less resilience. Thus, as Rowland concludes, ‘a number of countries with high risks, and at least some positive indicators of resilience, evidence potential to modify their unfavourable demographic trends’.
The book is well written and would suit a variety of readers ranging from policy-makers, educators and practitioners in health and welfare engaging with issues arising from population ageing in countries across the world, to students in the social and health sciences. It is also easily accessible to any lay reader who would benefit from its accessible exposition of the issues.