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Nine Trends in Global Aging Present Challenges, Says U.S. Study

Senior Journal

March 16, 2007 

While the world has successfully learned to live longer, this longevity presents many new challenges that will require cooperative planning by the world's nations, says a new report, Why Population Aging Matters: A Global Perspective, which was presented yesterday at the Summit on Global Aging, hosted by the U.S. State Department in collaboration with the National Institute on Aging.

The report provides a succinct description of population trends that are transforming the world in fundamental ways. The report, using data from the United Nations, US Census Bureau, and the Statistical Office of the European Communities as well as regional surveys, identifies nine emerging trends in global aging. These trends present a snapshot of challenges and opportunities that will stimulate a cross-national scientific and policy dialogue.

The report was issued jointly by the Department of State and the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging. 

"People are living longer and, in some parts of the world, healthier lives. This represents one of the crowning achievements of the last century but also a significant challenge. Longer lives must be planned for," according to the report.. 

"Societal aging may affect economic growth and many other issues, including the sustainability of families, the ability of states and communities to provide resources for older citizens, and international relations."

"Despite the weight of scientific evidence, the significance of population aging and its global implications have yet to be fully appreciated. There is a need to raise awareness about not only global aging issues but also the importance of rigorous cross-national scientific research and policy dialogue that will help us address the challenges and opportunities of an aging world."

Our Aging World

"We are aging—not just as individuals or communities but as a world. In 2006, almost 500 million people worldwide were 65 and older. By 2030, that total is projected to increase to 1 billion—1 in every 8 of the earth’s inhabitants. Significantly, the most rapid increases in the 65-and-older population are occurring in developing countries, which will see a jump of 140 percent by 2030."

A Host of Challenges

"While global aging represents a triumph of medical, social, and economic advances over disease, it also presents tremendous challenges.
"Population aging strains social insurance and pension systems and challenges existing models of social support. It affects economic growth, trade, migration, disease patterns and prevalence, and fundamental assumptions about growing older.

"Using data from the United Nations, U.S. Census Bureau, and Statistical Office of the European Communities as well as regional surveys and scientific journals, the U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA), with input from demographers, economists, and experts on aging, identified nine emerging trends in global aging. Together, these trends present a snapshot of challenges and opportunities that clearly show why population aging matters."

While Europe currently has four people of working age for every older citizen, it will have only two workers per older citizen by 2050 as a result of the baby boom generation retiring and life expectancy increasing.
Trends in Global Aging

Trend 1 – An Aging Population 
Since the beginning of recorded human history, young children have outnumbered older people. Very soon this will change. For the first time in history, people age 65 and over will outnumber children under age 5 (Figure 1). This trend is emerging around the globe. Today almost 500 million people are age 65 and over, accounting for 8 percent of the world’s population.

Trend 2 – Increasing Life Expectancy
Some nations experienced more than a doubling of average life expectancy during the 20th century. Life expectancy at birth in Japan now approaches 82 years, the highest level among the world’s more developed countries, and life expectancy is at least 79 years in several other more developed countries. 

Trend 3 – Rising Number of the Oldest Old
An important feature of population aging is the progressive aging of the older population itself. Over time, more older people survive to even more advanced ages. For research and policy purposes, it is useful to distinguish between the old and the oldest old, often defined as people age 85 and over. Because of chronic disease, the oldest old have the highest population levels of disability that require long-term care. They consume public resources disproportionately as well. 

● The growth of the oldest old population has a number of implications: l Pensions and retirement income will need to cover a longer period of life.

● Health care costs will rise even if disability rates decline somewhat.

● Intergenerational relationships will take on an added dimension as the number of grandparents and great-grandparents increase.

● The number of centenarians will grow significantly for the first time in history. This will likely yield clues about individual and societal aging that redefine the concept of oldest old.

The oldest old constitute 7 percent of the world’s 65- and-over population: 10 percent in more developed countries and 5 percent in less developed countries.
More than half of the world’s oldest old live in six countries: China, the United States, India, Japan, Germany, and Russia.

Trend 4 – Growing Burden of Noncommunicable or Chronic Diseases
In the next 10 to 15 years, the loss of health and life in every region of the world, including Africa, will be greater from noncommunicable or chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, than from infectious and parasitic diseases. This represents a shift in disease epidemiology that has become the focus of increasing attention in light of global aging. 

Trend 5 – Aging and Population Decline
While the global population is aging at an unprecedented rate, some countries are witnessing an historically unprecedented demographic phenomenon: Simultaneous population aging and population decline. 
More than 20 countries are projected to experience population declines in the upcoming decades.

Russia’s population, for example, is expected to shrink by 18 million between 2006 and 2030, a decrease of nearly 13 percent. Nine other countries are projected to experience a decline of at least 1 million people during the same period.

While Japan’s total population is projected to decrease by 11 million, the population age 65 and over is projected to increase by 8 million between 2006 and 2030. The proportion of older people in Japan should therefore grow from 20 percent in 2006 to about 30 percent in 2030.

Trend 6 – Changing Family Structure
As people live longer and have fewer children, family structures are transformed. This has important implications in terms of providing care to older people. 

Most older people today have children, and many have grandchildren and siblings. However, in countries with very low birth rates, future generations will have few if any siblings. As a result of this trend and the global trend toward having fewer children, people will have less familial care and support as they age.

Trend 7 - Shifting Patterns of Work & Retirement
No set of issues has stimulated public discourse about population aging more than work, retirement, and economic security in old age. In Western democracies, in Eastern Europe’s transitional economies, and in much of the less developed world, policymakers struggle with the balance between public and private income security systems. 

In 1960, men on average could expect to spend 46 years in the workforce and a little more than one year in retirement. By 1995, the number of years in the workforce had decreased to 37 while the number of years in retirement had jumped to 12.

Trend 8 – Evolving Social Insurance System
In response to escalating pension expenditures, an increasing number of countries across the development spectrum are evaluating the sustainability of old-age social insurance systems. 

Trend 9 – Emerging Economic Challenges
Population aging will have dramatic effects on local, regional, and global economies. Most significantly, financial expenditures, labor supply, and total savings will be affected.

A Window of Opportunity

The authors of the report say, "Some governments have begun to plan for the long term, but most have not. The window of opportunity for reform is closing fast as the pace of population aging accelerates. While Europe currently has four people of working age for every older person, it will have only two workers per older person by 2050. In some countries the share of gross domestic product devoted to social insurance for older people is expected to more than double in upcoming years. Countries therefore have only a few years to intensify efforts before demographic effects come to bear."

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