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The big bump on the pyramid

You can tell a lot about the current state of a country by looking at the population pyramid, which shows you how many people there are in each age group. This is the pyramid for Ireland.


(See a dynamic version.)

Basically, almost 40 percent of the population is between 15 and 34 and the peak is at 25-29. That makes a big difference to the economy and marketing.

In the UK by contrast, the peak is in the post-war forties age group:


(dynamic version)

The same pattern is evident in many European countries.

(You can get a population pyramid for any country from the US Census Bureau’s IDB Population Pyramid page. That’s where I got mine from.)

The practical upshot for a corporation selling to this group is that to be a big player in the Irish marketplace, it is absolutely essential to have an appealing proposition for the 15-34 age group. It won’t work otherwise. Stodgy old companies need to belt up or ship out.

You can make interesting social inferences too. There was a lot of unrest in the early eighties in the UK, at a time when the current 40-year-olds were just getting out of school. In Ireland, there’s a public order problem that might be partly attributed to this. If this is just demographics, we can expect the problem to subside as the population gets older.

A big fuss is made about the macroeconomic implications of population pyramids. The theory is that as the population grows older, there will be too many old people for the smaller group of working-age people to support. Having discussed this with people who follow this stuff, I think this is overplayed. There will certainly be a dip in the number of people in full-time work. But at the same time, there is strong economic growth in many countries, and productivity per person is increasing. We should be able to cover the gap with a bit of planning.

An additional factor: being old isn’t necessarily a constraint to being productive. Economic success in the 21st century isn’t as much about working hard and long as working clever. Older people (who are experienced, and have a strong social network) should have some chance of competing with the young, and with longer lifespans, should be able to work for longer. Economic growth in a post-industrial setting is ultimately dependent on creativity and innovation. Look at Picasso – he was still churning it out and bringing in cash when he died, aged 92!

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