New UN report calls for action on ageing populations

David Kingman explains the findings from a new UN report which shows the scale of the challenge facing societies as they age

 Global population ageing will present governments around the world with significant policy challenges throughout the first half of this century, according to a major new report from the UN called “Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: a celebration and a challenge”.

In particular, the report placed an emphasis on the need to ensure sustainable pension and healthcare systems around the world, including in countries where these have not previously been available:

“The global economic crisis has exacerbated the financial pressure to ensure both economic security and access to health care in old age. Investments in pension systems are seen as one of the most important ways to ensure economic independence and reduce poverty in old age.”

“[On healthcare]a life-course perspective should include health promotion and disease prevention activities that focus on maintaining independence, preventing and delaying disease and disability, and providing treatment. Policies are needed to promote healthy lifestyles, assistive technology, medical research and rehabilitative care.”

Alarming statistics

“Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: a celebration and a challenge” illustrates its arguments with a series of alarming statistics, which demonstrate the urgency of the problem. These included:

  • Every second, two people celebrate their 60th birthdays somewhere in the world. This means almost 58 million people are turning sixty every year.
  • 1 in 9 of the world’s people are currently aged over 60 (810 million people), and this is expected to go up to 1 in 5 by 2050 (which would be 2 billion people). The number is expected to reach 1 billion within the next ten years, having more than quadrupled since 1950, when it was just 205 million.
  • 15 countries now contain more than 10 million older persons, 7 of which are in the global South.
  • Only one country, Japan, currently has over 30% of its citizens in the 60+ age category, but by 2050, 64 more countries are expected to be in this position.
  • 30 years ago, there were no “aged economies”, in which consumption by older people was greater than that by younger people. 23 such economies had appeared by 2010, the UN estimates this will have risen to 89 by 2040.
  • 22% of Europeans and 19% of North Americans are currently over 60, compared to just 6% of Africans and 10% of people in Latin America.
  • For every 100 women currently over the age of 60, there are just 84 men; and for every 100 women over the age of 80, there only 61 men.

Thinking positively

Despite the seriousness of the situation it describes, “Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: a celebration and a challenge” actually strikes a surprisingly positive note about the prospects of population ageing, placing particular emphasis on two key points.

Firstly, we need to remember that population ageing is an unforeseen consequence of a series of positive developments. It is the result of increased life expectancy and reduced fertility, both of which have been explicit objectives of UN development projects, and are generally seen as a good thing. In other words, population ageing may present us with challenges, but these problems are the results of previous successes in combating poverty.

Secondly, they also argue that large numbers of older people could present an opportunity for society, rather than simply a hazard:

“A key finding of this report is the incredible productivity and contributions of those aged 60 and over, as caregivers, voters, volunteers, entrepreneurs and more. The report shows that, 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.”

Positivity definitely has its advantages; after all, it’s usually much easier to come up with solutions to problems if you approach them with a more favourable outlook.

Yet this report ultimately fails to say very much about the demands that ageing populations place on younger members of society, both as people and as citizens. If we are going to address these issues fairly and sustainably then we need to remember their needs, and deliver solutions which benefit people of all age groups, rather than just taking resources from one generation in order to give them to another.

Posted on: 15 October, 2012

5 thoughts on “New UN report calls for action on ageing populations

  1. Paul

    I am starting to believe that we are all trapped in a process which will lead to a default on the pound.

    The leftist views that have been imposed upon our population by a state educational system and the inability of our politicians to take any serious financial decisions without falling victim to a scornful media and ignorantly entrenched unionised opposition is dragging our country into complete financial oblivion. Most of our population do not understand the workings of the international credit market and that ultimately by beggaring their children they will beggar themselves. Our national currencies creditability is based on the ability of future generations to repay our national debt. By removing millions from obtaining a decent education and allowing the rise of a generally leftist national view they have effectively destroyed our nation’s future economic potential and the value of our currency for an entire generation. The average western worker simply isn’t worth as much as he used to be.

    Most have never lived outside the asset and credit bubble that has allowed many essentially unskilled and unexceptional individuals to become millionaires simply by buying a house. There have been times in history before when ‘anybody could become a millionaire’ and wild speculation was the basis for many peoples wealth – and the final result is always the same – a huge devaluation and crash in the value of currency. It is exceptionally hard for somebody who has never stepped outside the bubble to understand what exactly is happening right now – we have reached the end of the asset bubble and are currently biding time until the inevitable crash. Rather than letting the bubble burst in 2008/2009 we have set in motion an economic time bomb. By rigging the bond and gilt market since 2009 the Bank of England has performed a very good job at creating the illusion of stability – however every day that ticks by brings us one step closer to a default on the government’s debt and a massive devaluation in asset prices. Increasing secrecy within governments and banks and cunning manipulation has so far managed to hide this truth but in the end the market will call time on the government and the pound is going to crash. It might not be this year, it might not be next year – but it will happen. The generally socialist mind set of our population, the ignorance of out perilous financial situation and the inability to reduce government spending due to the union movement and mass media will lead to a collapse.

    Many politicians and other commentators explain away the situation by informing us that we live in an ‘increasing complex financial time’ – this is a lie – we don’t. The entire economy is still based on the same rules that have applied in all other times. The current system has become unsustainable but the generally ignorant population are not historically wise enough to notice this. They have been born into a socialist dream which started after World War 2 – one in which everybody has money – everybody has a house of some form – and anybody can be a millionaire. Have you ever wondered how it could possibly make sense that somebody can live a relatively comfortable life in comparison to the majority of the world’s population and never even have a job? Have you ever been amazed at the incredible inefficiency of government and how people seem to be paid above average salaries to perform nonsense jobs? How is it that I could have become a millionaire by purchasing a house 30 years ago and simply sitting in my bedroom?!Have you ever seriously thought about this? I will tell you why these anomalies exist is – socialism has infected our system – and the market is going to rout it out.

    The left have dreamed of destroying the market system since Marx – the problem is that they are living out their dream within the confines of the market and we are all going to fall victim to a massive delusion of speculation and socialsim.

  2. Barry Pearson

    A comment on the last paragraph:
    “Yet this report ultimately fails to say very much about the demands that ageing populations place on younger members of society, both as people and as citizens. If we are going to address these issues fairly and sustainably then we need to remember their needs, and deliver solutions which benefit people of all age groups, rather than just taking resources from one generation in order to give them to another.”

    All my life, resources have been taken from me to be given to people younger than me. Even while retired at 65, I am a net contributor to central government taxes, which feed through (via the education budget, Child Benefit, other benefits, etc) to children or parents with families. (I’m child-free). Every generation starts by relying heavily on older generations.

    I will never be young again, but young people today will eventually be old. I suggest that we all keep in mind the following principle:

    “Adopt those principles that you would want others to adopt when your own circumstances change for the worse.”

    The danger is that intergenerational problems tend to be formulated in static terms: “in 2012 we have older people competing with younger people”.

    But it is more fluid: “at any time, every generation is competing with older generations and younger generations, where those are actually alive”. And as we get older, all of us end up with fewer older generations to compete with, and more younger generations to compete with. We become the people we used to compete with and complain about!

  3. Barry Pearson

    There is an important paragraph in the report that we mustn’t forget. (I too must try to avoid falling into this trap! It is easy to forget).

    “The older generation is not a homogenous group for which one-size-fits-all policies are sufficient. It is important not to standardize older people as a single category but to recognize that the older population is just as diverse as any other age group, in terms of, for example, age, sex, ethnicity, education, income and health. Each group of older persons, such as those who are poor, women, men, oldest old, indigenous, illiterate, urban or rural, has particular needs and interests that must be addressed specifically through tailored programmes and intervention models.”

    And as this implies, younger generations are just as diverse. In fact, a good principle to remember in very many contexts is:

    “The differences between groups of people are typically lots of overlapping bell-curves, not lots of discontinuities”.

    In every generation there is a range of earned incomes, unearned incomes, health, house-ownership, dependents, education, capability, etc. Implying that an elderly widow with only state benefits is somehow being unfair to a Premier League footballer is obviously nonsense. Such is the danger of treating groups in terms of their averages. Perhaps another young person will be jealous of that widow’s house (if she has one), instead of being jealous of the footballer’s multiple houses and cars and holidays, etc.

    It would be interesting to know the relationship between the within-group variations versus between-group variations. For example, the variation of a particular parameter (perhaps income) among people of the same age-group versus the variation the averages of different age-groups.

    One thing is absolutely certain: treating a group as though it is homogenous is guaranteed to lead to massive injustices for some of that group.

  4. tom

    ‘The danger is that intergenerational problems tend to be formulated in static terms: “in 2012 we have older people competing with younger people”.

    I would not say “in 2012 we have older people competing with younger people”, I would say something like “in 2012 we have a cohort of people born in 1945-55 whose interests are competing with the interests of those born in 1980-90”.

    “And as we get older, all of us end up with fewer older generations to compete with, and more younger generations to compete with.”

    That’s true on an individual level, but not if you look on a societal level over time. For instance, someone who is 65 now would have had a vastly smaller older generation to contend with when they were 25 than someone who is 25 now would.

  5. Barry Pearson

    Tom said: “For instance, someone who is 65 now would have had a vastly smaller older generation to contend with when they were 25 than someone who is 25 now would.”

    True, and the same will apply to that younger generation when they are older. It isn’t just about the number in the cohort, but mostly about how long that cohort lives when they are old. (The 1965 PEAK of the 1955 to 1974 baby boom was an increase of about one-third over a more representative birth rate, and most of the boom was a smaller increase than that. It wasn’t the sort of explosion, perhaps a doubling, that might be implied by “boom”).

    With the increase in life expectancy for each generation, it is hard to see an alternative to extending the number of years that people have to contribute over their life. This may be by delaying the state pension age by considerable amounts, and/or by ensuring that a large proportion of people remain net contributors even after nominal retirement.

    (There are older people like me who are still net contributors even after losing a job and retiring. If my house can be sold for sufficient to pay for my long-term care later in life, I might still be a net contributor for the rest of my life. Perhaps most people need to think in those terms).

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