The world will have twice as many elderly people by 2050

A new UN report warns that the number of people aged 65 or over worldwide is set to more than double, from 761 million in 2021 to 1.6 billion in 2050.

The document, which calls for managing the challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities brought about by the aging of the population, underlines that the improvement of health and medical therapies, better access to education and the decline in fertility have was at the origin of this transformation.

Despite the multiple crises the world continues to face, including the rising cost of living, the rights and well-being of older people must be at the center of collective efforts to achieve a sustainable future, the report asserts.

Longer, Healthier Lives = Opportunities

Title “World Social Report: Leaving no one behind in an aging world”the study indicates that population aging is a defining global trend of our times.

Globally, a baby born in 2021 could expect to live, on average, nearly 25 years longer than a newborn in 1950, reaching 71, with females outliving males by five years in medium.

North Africa, West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to see the fastest growth in the number of older people over the next three decades, while Europe and North America combined now have the most high proportion of older people.

Inequalities in the aging world

Not everyone has benefited equally from the improvements in health and education that have led to population ageing. While many older people are in excellent health or economically active, others live with illness or in poverty.

According to UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Li Junhua, “Together, we can tackle today’s inequalities for the benefit of tomorrow’s generations, manage the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities that an aging population brings”.

In more developed regions, public transfer systems, including pensions and health care, provide more than two-thirds of the consumption of the elderly.

Without policies to prevent them, systemic disadvantages reinforce themselves throughout people’s lives, leading to gaping disparities in older ages.

However, in less developed regions, older people tend to work longer hours and rely more on accumulated wealth or family support.

Furthermore, public spending in most countries has not been sufficient to cover the growing demand for long-term care.

The report shows that life expectancy is strongly influenced by income, education, gender, ethnicity and place of residence, among many other factors.

Certain combinations of these factors have too often resulted in systemic disadvantage that begins early in life.

Without policies to prevent them, systemic disadvantages reinforce themselves throughout people’s lives, leading to gaping disparities in older ages, with disastrous consequences for progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the SDGs 10 on reducing inequalities.

The path to follow

For the UN, this demographic change must be accompanied by an overhaul of long-standing policies and practices related to livelihoods and work.

In his report on “Our common program”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for long-term initiatives that promote access to quality education and health care, as well as decent work throughout life, to all.

Many countries are already introducing opportunities for lifelong learning, reinforcement to take full advantage of the intergenerational workforce; as well as flexible retirement ages to accommodate a wide range of circumstances and personal preferences.

Balancing budgets while reducing inequalities

Governments can balance budgets while reducing inequality, argues the study, which calls for rethinking social protection systems, including pensions.

One of the major challenges is to maintain the fiscal sustainability of public pension systems while ensuring income security for all older people, including workers in informal employment.

To ensure sustainable and inclusive economic growth in an aging world, the study finds it crucial to expand decent work opportunities for women and other groups traditionally excluded from the formal labor market, while recognizing the contribution from the care sector which is largely informal to the formal economy.

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