The Challenge & Promise of a Graying Planet
June 16, 2013
June 16, 2013
The world is going gray. There were about 810 million people aged 60 years or older worldwide in 2012, and their number is projected to grow to more than 2 billion by 2050. At that point seniors will outnumber children (0 to 14 years) for the first time in history. The aging demographic is a megatrend that is transforming economies and societies around the world. Japan is the only country with an older population of more than 30 per cent, but by 2050, 64 countries are expected to achieve that proportion.
A major study published by the United Nations has warned that the growing numbers of the elderly presented significant challenges to welfare, pension and health care systems in both developing and developed nations. The report also highlights the fact that skills and knowledge that older people have acquired are going to waste in societies rather than being used to their full potential. Utilizing this experience and knowledge, and investing in older citizens will prevent an aging population from becoming an economic drain and result in stronger, wealthier societies. Many older citizens have skills that would be immensely useful to the voluntary sector but these have hardly been tapped on a mass scale. This could represent a “longevity dividend” for countries around the world.
Another potential benefit of aging populations may be the prospect of a more peaceful world. Demographers have found that developing nations with more than 40 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 29 are 2.5 times more prone to internal conflict, including terrorism, than countries with fewer young people, largely because of high unemployment combined with youthful exuberance and vulnerability to peers. As the population in these countries skews toward middle age, political stability tends to improve.
However, older is not always less violent. Not even a maturing population will settle down if accompanying economic gains aren’t shared, or if declining fertility rates don’t occur uniformly among different groups within a society.
The UN report expressed concern about discrimination experienced by older persons, particularly older women, in the areas of access to jobs and health care, subjection to abuse, denial of the right to own and inherit property, and lack of basic minimum income and social security. In an attempt to reverse the trend of underemployment of older workers, Britain and several other European countries have passed laws preventing employers from discriminating against older workers.
It warned that the most serious impact of aging populations would be in developing countries without safety nets or adequate legal protection in place for older people. In nations now dominated by young workers, urban migration has eroded traditional care of the elderly in extended families, as young parents have left for the cities. The trend has also tended to leave the elderly acting as primary caregivers of their grandchildren.
Global aging is an inescapable fact of the 21st century and will present both challenges and opportunities for every society.