Faulty figures: Statistician-general Pali Lehohla says the most recent population figures show a worrying trend of an ageing population relying on a working-age population that has high rates of unemployment. Picture: SUPPLIED
Faulty figures: Statistician-general Pali Lehohla says the most recent population figures show a worrying trend of an ageing population relying on a working-age population that has high rates of unemployment. Picture: SUPPLIED

SA is facing an economic dilemma as two of its most dependent population groups — small children and the elderly — are growing, while the number of working people is declining.

Releasing the midyear population estimates‚ Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said the country’s population now stood at an estimated 56.52-million‚ which was 902‚200 more people than in 2016.

Population rates for children aged 0-14 had risen steadily since 2002-03‚ largely due to the introduction of prevention of mother-to-child transmission and antiretroviral treatments for mothers and children infected by HIV or suffering from AIDS.

However‚ fertility rates had declined‚ with the average number of children born to South African mothers now 2.4 compared to 2.7 10 years ago.

South Africans were also living longer‚ with the average life expectancy now 64 — two years more than 2012 estimates.

Lehohla said at this rate‚ the country was likely to reach the 70-year-old life expectancy target set out in the National Development Plan by 2030.

Problematically, however‚ the population in the range of 15 to 34 had been declining steadily. This was supposed to be the most economically active age range‚ making up the bulk of the country’s workforce.

Lehohla said that this would affect the country’s potential to reach the "demographic dividend" — a window period for economic growth created when fertility rates decline and the working-age population grows.

"These two age groups [children and the elderly] are dependant populations and they depend largely on the 15-34 age group. But the growth rate of that group is declining‚ so the burden will fall on a declining population," Lehohla said.

"Added to this is that the 15-35 age group has the highest rate of unemployment, so they’re relying on nothing. In fact‚ that group is feeding off the social grants of the children and the elderly. We’re facing a serious problem‚" he said.

Economist Dawie Roodt said population ageing and life expectancy were measures of progress for any country, but if they grew before the country generated wealth for its population, this could render it an "old, poor" country.

"With the economy growing below 1%, on a per capita basis, we will be getting poorer.

"Part of the reason why we see this, has to do with a number of things. We were getting richer, broadly speaking, and if you are getting richer, you are getting older and that is a good thing," he said.

Roodt said SA needed to couple its young population with world-class skills development. This could be helped by allowing skilled foreigners into the country to impart skills.


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