Prof: Migrants needed to cover pension costs

Prof: Migrants needed to cover pension costs

Kiwis opposed to immigration need to think about how we're going to fund the impending tsunami of baby boomers moving into retirement, a population expert says.

Monday is World Population Day, established by the United Nations to raise awareness of population issues. In many parts of the world overpopulation is the biggest concern, but Western countries are increasingly having to deal with the opposite.

"We're just about to go sub-replacement - our fertility levels are dropping," Massey University Professor Paul Spoonley told Paul Henry this morning.

That means Kiwis soon won't be having enough babies to keep the population growing or stable. This is a problem because one of the largest demographics - the baby boomers - are moving into retirement, out of the workforce and onto pensions, whether they need them or not.

"Baby boomers are expanding the number of people over 65, in fact doubling it to about 1.1 million," says Prof Spoonley. "The structure of the New Zealand population is changing and the only way we're growing is immigration."

Worldwide, there are plenty of people to go around - there are more than twice as many people alive today than 50 years ago. Despite birth rates plummeting in the developed world over the past two decades, the world's population is still on course to hit 11 billion by mid-century, says Prof Spoonley.

"Overpopulation is a major concern, and that's where the number of people exceeds the ability to provide them with food, water and housing, and that occurs in many parts of the world. We live in a lucky part of the world - we're not normal," he says.

Refugees have been pouring into Europe in the past couple of years, and Prof Spoonley says it could be in the West's best interests to take them in.

"If you wonder why Angela Merkel agreed to 1 million Syrians last year, yes, it was humanitarian, but the Germans are one of the most-advanced aged societies. They need workers - that's what the million Syrian refugees was about."

New Zealand could do with some too, but not if they all settle in Auckland.

"The numbers coming into New Zealand are pretty high and they're putting a lot of pressure [on infrastructure], but we could do things to change that. One would be to direct more migrants into other parts of New Zealand, not to come to Auckland."

The National Government has long ruled out raising the age people can start collecting the pension, despite the demographic pressures, including our longer lives. Labour did have a plan to gradually increase the age of eligibility, but ditched it.