Demography Changes and Crime – Rising Elderly Population


Demography is essentially the study of populations, divided into different sectors mainly; natural change which include births and deaths, net migration, age component and finally marriage, separation/divorce and headship rates. Demographic studies are important when planning future policies and investment decisions regarding schools, hospitals, roads, recreational facilities and power and water supplies. Research on changing population trends are of utmost importance in planning investment.

Planning Authority Topic Paper on Demography Report

Malta is a densely populated country with very limited land resources. Population projections enable the authorities to plan size and structure of future households and other policy making such as on education, health and social services. These projections serve also for traffic management, communications, leisure, recreational needs and urban and environmental planning. Our recent entry into the EU is also to be taken into account in terms of possible migration.

While certain events such as birth, mortality and migration can be somewhat predictable, other choices such as contraception are not as easy to predict. All in all, population predictions are not an easy task and are non linear and pretty volatile and need detailed analysis of quantitative data. The 2001 Topic Paper on demography is the third of its kind pepared by the Planning Authority to enable future and effective planning.

The projections in this paper cover the period from 1995 to 2020. Since it covers a period of twenty five years, one cannot expect a high degree of accuracy. The projections are based on the 1995 census of Population and   Housing  data. The Regional Projections are then based on the seven local plans defined by the Planning Authority, which are Central Malta, Gozo and Comino, Grand Harbour, Marsaxlokk Bay, North Harbours, North West and South Malta.

The cohort component method, used in most developed countries, was used for national projection in the Maltese island. This method is based on five year age cohorts and has the advantage of letting population change to be inserted and adjusted. An individual analysis is therefore of benefit as it influences the demographic components that effect the projection results. Age and gender are always included when formulating population projections.

Population projections usually assume that future events will be somewhat similar to past events. The hypothesis of the topic paper is based on mortality, reproductive behaviour and migration to understand the Maltese demographic situation.

Trends in the Maltese Islands

Low birth and mortality rates have been experienced in Malta for quite some time now, demographically we call this late transitional. This means that the population will be moving towards a post- transitional period and increase will be very low or none at all. Further rises in life expectancy, especially for females are to be expected but migration is still a volatile component to be considered. According to the 2001 report Malta is one of the highest in Europe when it comes to life expectancy with an average of 77.5 for both males and females. Postponement of death is mainly due to betterment in health services and a decrease in degenerative diseases. Other factors that increase life expectancy are the improvements in living standards.

Women tend to live more than men. According to the 2001 Planning Authority Demography Topic Paper, women tend to ‘engage less in life threatening lifestyles, such as alcoholism… less exposed to hazardous work environments.’ (Miljanic Brinkworth, Vassallo, Pace Asciak, Formosa, Brigulio and Bhowmick, 2001). Until 2000 the gender gap will continue to widen and after 2005 it is expected to narrow. At 2020 life expectancy will be 78 for males and 83 for females (Miljanic Brinkworth et al., 2001)

During the 1990’s life expectancy increased, with a fluctuation for males. In 2020, females’ life expectancy is expected to stabilize while male life expectancy will continue to rise to about 76.5 (Miljanic Brinkworth et al., 2001). Since the age of the population is going to increase, planners must start to think about the changes in  housing , community care, old people’s homes, pension sustainability, schools and hospitals and so on.

Since 1985 fertility rates have been on the decrease. This is due to a number of reasons; more women are working, studying and therefore postponing marriage and having children to a later stage in their life. Fewer children are also being born due to these factors. Fertility rates have fallen below the replacement level of 2.1 according to the census, 35% of mothers have two children while 18% have 1 child (Miljanic Brinkworth et al., 2001). Since the number of children born are less than ever, this will have repercussions that planners must take into consideration e.g. education, employment,  housing  etc. Is it worth building more schools when there won’t be enough children to use them? Will there be enough people working to sustain the pensions of the larger ageing population in the coming years? Will there be more migration because of better jobs abroad and how will this effect Malta? With the increase of migrants in Malta, how will this affect the population trends?

Migration is a problem for calculating population change since it is very volatile. The post war period in Malta was dominated by three net migration peaks, with a decade apart. 1954 was the year most people left Malta, with a total of 11,447, followed respectively by the years 1950, 1964 and 1965 with over 8000 migrants in each year. From 1976 to 1997 there were a number of migrants that returned to Malta, mainly dominated by males (Miljanic Brinkworth et al., 2001). These movements of people obviously had repercussions on the population structure. Since we have now joined the EU, migration is once again on the agenda. Will there be a migration of men alone or will whole families migrate? One must also note that people will migrate to Malta as a result of our joining the EU. In recent years we have seen an increase of illegal immigrants and refugees on our shores coming from the African continent. Some of these will proceed to other European countries or USA, while others will set up family here. This is an issue planners must keep in mind as this will have a bearing on projections.

The 2001 Planning Authority study based the regional population projections on the seven local plans mentioned before. This was done to chart the internal migration in Malta, with the census data as the authoritative source. Economic prospects, ideal environment,  housing  availability and so on are linked to internal migration. Child bearing has no relevance in this sector since fertility rates do not vary among local plans. The same can be said on mortality rates. Size and structure though have an effect on internal migration. In the Grand Harbour Local Plan, with the current conditions, by the year 2020 the population will have decreased to 6700 from 30700. The urban and social fabric will automatically have severe consequences. Internal migration is estimated at 3% of the total population, and is usually in their own locality of vicinity. An increase in population is expected in all localities except for the Grand Harbour local plan (Miljanic Brinkworth et al., 2001).

For structure plan review purposes household projections are required in order to plan for  housing  provisions, urban services, transport, education and recreation. The projections are based on an analysis of households by age and gender. An increase of households can be expected since female independence has increased and there are a greater number of separations, and single mothers. Co- habitation is also on the increase though not as much as in Europe. This could be because co-habitation is not yet so accepted in Malta and accommodation is not cheap. Renting is not an option for many people. Many do not leave their parents’ home until they are married and this is prolonged more for those who continue their tertiary education. Males marry later than females and therefore stay longer in their parental homes (Decannini, 1999 as cited in Miljanic Brinkworth et al., 2001).

An increase in household can be also attributed to the government’s help in keeping the elderly in the community. 80% of Maltese elderly prefer to continue living at home (Delia, 1993 as cited in Miljanic Brinkworth et al., 2001). By 2020, 60 year olds will be more active and therefore will continue to live at home, while those in a home will be of an older age.

The report forecasts that in comparison to 1995 in 2020 there will be; a larger population estimated at 434,260, a higher proportion of males, a higher proportion of people over 60 years of age, a lower birth rate, a higher death rate, a higher fertility rate, higher life expectancy for both males and females, an average international migration of 775, smaller households, more households, more persons in institutions, more people residing in the central Malta local plan, less people residing in Gozo and Comino Local Plan area, lower population in the Grand Harbour area and approximately the same for the other Local Plan areas (Miljanic Brinkworth et al., 2001).

Increasing Elderly Population

In Malta the projected percentage distribution by age and sex for the years 2006, 2015 and 2035 show an increase in the aging population that reaches a 13.8% for females and an 11.5% for males in the 75 and over range in the year 2035. This contrasts greatly with the low 3.7% and 3.8% of those born in this same period. The trend shows an increase in the elderly population and a steady decrease in the birth rate (National Statistics Office, 2006).

In November 2005, the average age of the population stood at 38.5 years, compared to 35.7 years in 1995 and 33.8 in 1985 ( National Statistics Office, 2005). This resulted from a declining fertility rate, 16.1 % less than in 1995 while an increase was noted in the 50 to 64 age group and 65 and over range group, with an increase of 42.5% and 28.6% respectively National Statistics Office, 2006). The dependency ratio[1] in 2005 decreased to 44.7% compared to 50.4% in 1995. This is due to the low fertility rate that in 10 years decreased by 0.4 per mother.

With the increase of the elderly in our societies, crimes against the elderly are bound to rise. ‘… the rejection of the value of the elderly … they become dehumanised… opens the doors to crime…’ (Montague, 2006). The likelihood of being a victim of crime is strongly related to one’s age (Fattah, 1991 as cited in Carrington, 2001). A study in 2003 in the state of Idaho concluded that the poorer the elderly, the more likely they are to become victims. This can be attributed to the unsustainability of the pension schemes present that put elderly in sticky situations. Their choice of  housing  depends on their income, and therefore might have to live in crimogenic areas (Montague, 2006).

In Australia, the population is ageing steadily and like other older people in other countries they are at risk mainly from four main sources. The first and most common is being a victim of family members, friends or acquaintances they trust. These may assault them, abuse them or steal from them. There is also the risk that strangers will victimise the elders and commercial organisations (white collar criminals) who would defraud them (Graycar, 1999). The high level of victimisation can be due to the fact that the elderly have accumulated savings over the years. Inflation can make them feel that they will not cope economically, and so they are prone to fraudulent activities who promise them money for investing their hard earned cash (Miyazawa, 1990).

Losses are occurring in a broad sociological context, since we are experiencing an ever increasing aging society (Rathbone- McCuan, 1986). The increase has given rise to a greater demand for state and private provisions especially since family and kinship models are changing. Even though in Malta, cultural values are still strong, the family is undergoing major changes. The elderly have become a burden on society and institutions are now filling the gap (Agius, 1989). Elderly who are in institutions or receive care at home are at risk of being abused or neglected by their carers (Graycar, 1999). Fraud and abuse in institution settings for elderly are of the financial kind were personal funds are stolen or misused, rights abuse such as privacy and right to information, neglect and physical and psychological abuse (Halamandaris, 1983 & Stathopoulos, 1983 as cited in Rathbone- McCuan, 1986).Victimizing will become even greater in the years to come when the current population will reach very advanced stages of ageing (Rathbone- McCuan, 1986). Therefore the fear of crime in the elderly is not unfounded. Among the aged the risk of crime is of a predatory, economic type and can also result from abuse from those who care for them (Graycar, 1999).

Community and home based care should be provided to help families with elderly in need of care thus avoiding the need to be institutionalized. In 2007, elderly over 80 in Germany were over four million. They are living longer and healthier lives which means that there is a need for a ‘societal infrastructure that accommodates the needs of an ageing population’ (Unknown Author, 2007). Suitable  housing  is to be provided as well as urging public institutions to provide ramps for wheelchairs, companies and shops to provide services such as carrying bags for the elderly and so on. Germany is not prepared to cope with the growing number of health problems that affect the elderly and is still relying on the family to provide care. Most elderly prefer to live at home and one should look to alternatives such as multi family  housing  where several generations of a family live in different apartments but under the same roof (Lenz as cited in Unknown author, 2007). In the United States a concept is growing rapidly called ‘independent living’. This is where elderly who are still relatively healthy live in a community. Meals are provided for them and shops, banks, transport and medical services are accessible. This could be an excellent approach that could be adopted and customised according to local needs. In Malta, we already some services that help the elderly in their home such as Telecare[2], meals on wheels[3] and handy man services. Reliance on the welfare state and government homes for the elderly is unfortunately considerable in Malta, with a large waiting list for St. Vincent De Paule Home for the Elderly (Dunn, 2001).

Migration of elderly people to coastal is being experienced in many countries. People move to other countries such as Spain and Malta that offer mild weather and better living conditions then for example in Britain. In the USA, the elderly populate places like Florida and Long Island, as these areas provide them with an ideal life. Elder people tend to migrate to places which offer ‘the slower more relaxed pace and the natural beauty’ (Spencer, 2000). Others migrate because of the availability of cheaper and better health services. These movements create a number of age related problems such as transport and mobility problems, high demand for health services, less people working and so on. Innovative ways to improve transport and delivery of services should be devised. Communications and information technology can offer solutions to some of these problems. For example, shopping from one’s home will reduce travelling for the elderly as goods are delivered directly to their homes. The same can be said of financial transactions. In 20 years time technology will be more effective and more useful in aiding the elderly in becoming independent (Spencer, 2000).

In Japan, by the beginning of the 21st century 25% of its population will be elderly. It is interesting to note that Miyazawa, 1990 included crime committed by the elderly in his study. 3.9% of the total individuals apprehended by the police were elderly. The offences committed by the elderly were mostly property offences followed closely by embezzlement and fraud. Why do the elderly turn to criminal behaviour? According to Miyazawa, 1990 the reasons are various. He tries to explain them by saying that the elderly are forced to retreat from social life creating a certain amount of resentment resulting from economic and psychological deprivation and this may ultimately lead to deviant behaviour. The loss of work due to retirement can cause the energy and capabilities of the elderly to be diverted to deviant behaviour. Since the elderly population is increasing all over the world, crime by the elderly must be considered too and solutions be found and plans drawn up (Miyazawa, 1990).

Fresco, 2003 wrote an article in the Chicago Tribune about how elderly drivers were involved in most car accidents. In Long island, drivers over 75 had the second highest fatality rate in 2000. Though older drivers aim for the easiest traffic, and drive fewer miles, avoiding rush hours, in bad weather and at nights they still are a risk on the road. This is because many older drivers have slower reflexes, poorer hearing and vision. These issues are likely to multiply as the ageing population increases. Lack of suitable public transportation, suburban  housing  with spread out patterns will create problems. The administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington D.C. admitted that this was going to be a huge problem, and people will still have to ‘get around… to the store…to the doctor, the church’ (Fresco, 2003). If the elderly are made to give up their licence, they will face a lot of difficulties in leading an independent life.

The demographic changes of the population will continue and so will the overall crime rate as a result. If an age group, such as the youngsters’ will decline and is replaced by age groups characterized by lower offending rates, the crime rate will automatically decline (Carrington, 2001). Companies and businesses, the community and government must find solutions to the problems that will be encountered by the inevitable increasing ageing population.

[1] Dependency ratio is the sum of people aged less than 15 and over 65 years.

[2] The Telecare Service enables the subscriber to call for assistance when required. It aims to provide peace of mind to older adults, disabled persons and those with special needs, thus encouraging them to continue living in their own home. Telecare is also a source of reassurance for the subscriber’s carers and relatives.

[3] The scope of the Meals on Wheels is to support elderly persons and others who are still living in their own home but who are unable to prepare a decent meal. The Maltese Cross Corps (a non-governmental organization) in collaboration with the Department for the Elderly and Community Care provide these individuals with a cooked meal.