Fears retiring baby boomers will monopolise resources and limit economic growth for future generations are "nothing to worry about", according to sociologist Frank Ferudi.
The University of Kent professor told delegates to the Eversheds pension conference that concerns about an increasing number of elderly people in Britain are largely down to cultural prejudices against the old.
He said: "There is nothing new about an ageing population. You don't need a PhD in economics to grasp this. As we've been getting older and older since the 1860s have we been getting poorer and poorer? Is it the case that somehow at the same time, because all these old people were dragging the economy back, we were getting poorer?
"No, on the contrary, not only have European and industrial societies been getting older, they have been getting richer. In other words there is no causal relationship, no causal linkage at all, between demographic patterns and economic performance."
He dismissed "alarmist" accounts by newspapers and policymakers that retiring baby boomers will deprive future generations of wealth.
He argued: "All these alarmist projections ignore reality, they ignore the experience of history and they ignore the fact that if we look at human experience we have nothing to worry about."
In particular, he singled out the old age dependency ratio where Britain is expected to move from four to two working people supporting every over-65 year-old.
Ferudi said this move was not historically unprecedented, pointing to 1900 where 14 working people supported every elderly person.
He said: "Somehow we managed to make a transition where there were 14 people working for every [retired] adult from one where we have four people working for every adult with no real problems.
"We had two world wars in between, a major depression in the 1930s, the destruction of resources on a mass scale occurring at that time and yet somehow not only did we manage to survive but look at the quality of life in the 21st century compared to where we had 14 adults working over time for every old gentleman."
He said the debate over the elderly is a distraction from bigger questions about the direction of the economy.
Ferudi argued for a bridging form of retirement and allowing the elderly to work more in the community, particularly in childcare.
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