A new report from the UN has claimed that the fastest growing age group in the world is the elderly and that governments must take steps now to support the future needs of and make best social and economic use of that population.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report estimates that one in nine people in the world is aged 60 or above and that that rate will rise to one in five by 2050.
Speaking at a press conference the UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, called population ageing “one of the most significant trends in the 21st century.”
“People everywhere must age with dignity and security, enjoying life through the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Calling rising life expectancies “one of humanity’s greatest achievements”, Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and A Challenge claims that in the last five years life expectancies have improved so rapidly that the number of countries in which life expectancy exceeds 80 has risen from 19 to 33. Combined with falling fertility rates, this improvement in life expectancy worldwide has lead to population ageing.
The year 2000 was the first time in history that the human species had more people over 60 than it had children under the age of five. By 2050, the over 60 population will be larger than the number of people under the age of 15. The proportion of ageing people in developing countries will also rise – currently two out of three people aged over 60 live in the developing world; by 2050 that rate will rise to four out of five.
The UN warns that the challenges presented by these demographic shifts need to be addressed now so that countries can adapt to them as they occur. These challenges include the gendered nature of ageing (the proportion of women is higher than that of men and ageing men and women tend to have very different life experiences even in the same culture), and the need for “completely new approaches to health care, retirement, living arrangements and intergenerational relations.”
The report identifies 10 priority actions, including: recognizing the inevitability of the demographic change and beginning to plan for it now; ensuring the rights and dignity of older people are protected through appropriate health care, living conditions and income levels; support for families as they support the elderly; international research efforts to support national decisions and work to ensure societies recognize the ageing as individuals with rights who can contribute to their societies.
A key priority is to recognize the whole life of an individual and to develop education, employment and health care opportunities to allow workers of all ages to integrate into economies.
The report states that it “identifies gaps and provides recommendations for the way forward to ensure a society for all ages in which both young and old are given the opportunity to contribute to development and share in its benefits.”
In the words of Dr. Osotimehin, “This report shows that, with actions taken now, we can all benefit from the longevity dividend.”