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Inaugural lecture: Prof André Pelser
2004-06-04

Tendencies and changes in the South African population structure in future decades.

Within the next five years South Africa will for the first time in the past century enter a period where the death rate will exceed the birth rate, largely due to the impact of HIV / AIDS.

According to sociologist Prof André Pelser, sociologist at the of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Department of Sociology, the death rate exceeding the birthrate is only one of three demographic trends which will fundamentally change South Africa’s population structure in the following decades.

He was speaking at the UFS in Bloemfontein during his inaugural lecture as professor this week.

Prof Pelser said that according to some models the South African population will decrease within the next five decades by between 10 and 26 percent.

A second important trend which will impact on the population structure is the progressive ageing of the population.

He said the group above 65 years is the only age category in the South African population which will witness sharp increases in the next few decades.

In the next 50 years, the group younger than 15 years will reflect a decrease of 39% and those older than 65 years in South Africa will increase by approximately 110% in the next two decades.

“The systematic “greying” of the South African population will create the same economic and welfare issues as those with which governments in some more developed countries are already grappling,” said Prof Pelser.

A third trend affecting the South African population structure is the constant decrease in life expectancy.

Life expectancy at birth for the total population is projected to decrease from approximately 62 years at the beginning of the 1990’s to 43 years in 2015-2020, with sharp differences between the various population groups.

These tendencies and changes to the South African population structure have serious implications, he said.

For example, he said, the reduction in life expectancy could compromise national development objectives.

“It is estimated that more than a quarter of the economically active population will be infected with HIV by 2006,” said Prof Pelser.

The increase in the population, in age category 65, will place a financial burden on government and the economically active sector.

“Especially worrying is the fact that ever-increasing proportions of the state budget will be allocated to health and welfare services and this at the expense of other priorities like education, infrastructure, criminal justice system and trade and industry, to name but a few,” he said

“A comprehensive and integrated strategy is thus vitally important in addressing the overarching issues caused by changes in the population structure,” said Prof Pelser.

 

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