Facing the Challenges of World's Aging Population

Article excerpt

Baby boomers are going to live considerably longer on average than members of generations past.

Due in part to improved health measures and better nutrition, mortality rates will drop faster between now and 2022 than they did during the 1915-to-1988 period, calculates Dora Costa, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist.

This is part of a worldwide phenomenon - a "revolution in longevity."

Since 1950, average life expectancy worldwide has increased 20 years, to 66 years. United Nations demographers expect the average lifespan to reach 76 by 2050. In the United States, people will live even longer than that.

By 2050, the UN says, 21 percent of the planet's population will be over 60. It's currently 10 percent.

This "aging" of the world's population has enormous social and economic consequences for this century. "The shift in policy that is going to be necessary is dramatic," says John Scholvinck, director of social and policy development at the UN in New York.

The aging of the population is no secret among industrial nations, long concerned about the financial security of their social security and medical systems.

What may be less well known is the remarkable demographic transition now under way in many developing countries. As population growth subsides, nutrition and healthcare improve, and youngsters age, they will see their older populations quadruple by 2050.

"It is particularly challenging to developing countries," says Mr. Scholvinck. "They have a much shorter time to adjust."

With high incomes and wealth built up over decades, industrial countries can better afford programs for the aged.

Developing countries are mostly poor. Many have no pension systems, except perhaps for government employees and those working for big firms. Most people rely on children or other family members to take care of them in their old age.

But with increased urbanization - people moving from the countryside to seek greater opportunities in cities - family structures often break down. "Poverty will be an issue for older people," warns Scholvinck. …