Global Aging: Celebration or Crisis?

Will the world reap its “longevity dividend”?

   A report says this global era of aging will contribute greatly to civilization – if societies act to meet the healthcare and other challenges of an aging world.

   “Increasing longevity is one of humanity’s greatest achievements,” declares Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and a Challenge, a report produced by HelpAge International.

   “People live longer because of improved nutrition, sanitation, medical advances, health care, education, and economic well-being.”

   Life expectancy is now over 80 in 33 countries. Five years ago, only 19 countries had attained this, the report says.

   “ … With the right measures in place to secure health care, regular income, social networks, and legal protection, there is a longevity dividend to be reaped worldwide by current and future generations.”

   The report’s findings include:

  • By 2050, the number of centenarians worldwide will increase to 3.2 million. There were 316,600 in 2011.
  • Japan is the world’s only country with more than 30 percent of its population aged 60 or over. By 2050, there will be 64 such countries.
  • Globally, 47 percent of older men, and 27 percent of older women, are active in the workplace. Up to 90 percent of older people work in developing nations.
  • Today, life expectancy is about 78 years in developed countries and 68 years in developing nations. By 2050, newborns can expect to live to age 83 years in developed and 74 in developing regions.
  • Most older people are women. For every 100 women aged 60 or over worldwide, there are 84 men. For every 100 women aged 80 or over, there are 61 men. 
  • Old age is experienced differently by gender. Older women are often more vulnerable to discrimination, including poor access to jobs and health care, denial of the right to own and inherit property, and lack of minimum income and social security.

   The report warns against stereotyping older people. They are not a homogeneous demographic but are as diverse as any other age group in ethnicity, education, income, and health. They are making global contributions as caregivers, voters, volunteers, and entrepreneurs.

   The diversity extends to geography. Aging patterns differ remarkably by region. Last year, 6 percent of the population in Africa was 60 and over. 

   This compares to:

  • 10 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 11 percent in Asia 
  • 19 percent in North America
  • 22 percent in Europe.

   By 2050, the projection is: 10 percent of Africa will be 60 and over. That will compare to:

  • 24 percent in Asia 
  • 24 percent in Oceania
  • 25 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 27 percent in North America
  • 34 percent in Europe.

   The report notes other trends. 

   In various parts of the world, families have the responsibility for the care and support of older dependents. The costs can greatly burden working-age generations, depleting savings and productivity. 

   But those financial and living arrangements of older people are changing along with other social traditions. Family sizes are decreasing. Significant numbers of “skipped-generation” households consist of children and older people, especially in rural areas, as a result of rural-to-urban migration of “middle-generation” adults, the report says. In many cases, the evidence says older individuals provide assistance to adult children and grandchildren.

   “With one in nine persons in the world aged 60 years or over, projected to increase to one in five by 2050, population aging is a phenomenon that can no longer be ignored,” the report says. 

   It need not be regarded as a crisis. The report spells out 10 priority actions. They include:

  • “Recognize the inevitability of population aging and the need to adequately prepare all stakeholders (governments, civil society, private sector, communities, and families) for the growing numbers of older persons.”
  • “Ensure that all older persons can live with dignity and security, enjoying access to essential health and social services and a minimum income through the implementation of national social protection floors and other social investments …”
  • “Invest in young people today by promoting healthy habits, and ensuring education and employment opportunities, access to health services, and social security coverage for all workers as the best investment to improve the lives of future generations of older persons. Flexible employment, lifelong learning and retraining opportunities should be promoted to facilitate the integration in the labor market of current generations of older persons.

Source: HelpAge International (