Aging World Population is Challenging Our Social Systems

By Dr. Alan Viau

Population aging is happening in all regions of the world. The good news is that on average, people can expect to live 16 more years at age 60. The question now is how long can a person of 60 expect to live in good health. This will require a drastic shift in government thinking about later life.

Today (1 October 2014), the United Nations International Day of Older Persons, HelpAge Interna

tional is launching the Global AgeWatch Index 20

14 ranking 96 countries according to the social and economic wellbeing of older people. It measures wellbeing in four key areas: income security, health, personal capability and an enabling environment. Canada rates fourth in the world index behind Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

The statistics are staggering. There are currently 868 million people over 60 – nearly 12 per cent of the global population. By 2050, it’s predicted to rise to 21 per cent. This means for the first time, there will be nearly as many people aged 60 or over as those under 15 – 2.02 billion compared with 2.03 billion.

The Index tells us that economic growth alone will not improve older people’s wellbeing and specific policies need to be put in place to address the implications of ageing. More than one third of countries trail significantly behind the best-performing countries. “The unprecedented rate and speed of population ageing presents policy makers with a challenge.” said Toby Porter, Chief Executive of HelpAge International. “Only if they act now will they have a chance to meet the needs of their citizens and keep their economies going.”

Toby Porter, Chief Executive of HelpAge International shakes hands with a villager in the Philippines © Joselito Dela Cruz HelpAge International

The report this year focuses on pension policy and how this is being managed across the globe. Only half the world’s population can expect to receive even a basic pension in old age and although policies supporting people in later life exist they need to be implemented faster and more systematically.  “Social pensions are a game changer for older people,” said Porter. “Rising numbers of older people mean governments need to radically re-think their approach to later life”.

Governments need to decide their priorities but the cost is much less than often thought. “In most European Union countries, pensions systems as a whole do more to reduce inequality than all other parts of the tax or benefit system combined,” said Porter. They can also contribute to reducing poverty by increasing the amount families have to spend.

Having income security in later life stabilizes a family and allows for healthier aging. “People do not stop developing when they reach sixty or seventy or eighty,” said Professor Sir Richard Jolly, advisor to the Index as well as architect of the UNDP Human Development Index. “Our older years should be as much a time to expand our horizons as our earlier years.”

HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives.