BANGKOK (AlertNet) – People aged 60 and over are the fastest-growing group in the world’s population and will surpass the 1 billion mark in a decade, with global implications for healthcare, retirement, and social and intergenerational relations, a report released on Monday said.
At present, one person in every nine is aged 60 or over, a total of 810 million people. By 2050 that proportion will be one in five, and there will be more over-60s than children under 15, according to Ageing in the Twenty-first Century: A Celebration and A Challenge, published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and HelpAge International.
The ageing population is a worldwide phenomenon, but it is happening fastest in developing countries, the report said. “Today, almost two in three people aged 60 or over live in developing countries and by 2050, nearly four in five will live in the developing world.”
“Increasing longevity is one of humanity’s greatest achievements,” but also “presents social, economic and cultural challenges to individuals, families, societies and the global community,” the report said.
With the right measures in place to secure healthcare, regular income, social networks and legal protection, older people can be incredibly productive and contribute to society and the economy, the report said.
“It is how we choose to address the challenges and maximise the opportunities of a growing older population that will determine whether society will reap the benefits” of this trend, it added.
The report recommends that governments act urgently on 10 points to maximise the opportunities presented by ageing populations. These include building the needs of older people into wider policy planning, humanitarian response and disaster preparedness.
OLDER WOMEN MORE VULNERABLE
Many countries have made progress in adopting new policies, plans and laws on ageing but much more needs to be done, the report said, stressing the importance of social protection for older people.
Globally, only one third of countries have comprehensive social protection schemes, most of which cover only those in formal employment, or less than half the economically active population worldwide.
Many older people are still economically active and productive, with 47 percent of older men and 24 percent of older women still participating in the labour force.
The report also highlighted the growing gap between the number of older women and older men in the world. For every 100 women aged 60, there are only 84 men, and among those aged 80 and over, there are only 61 men to every 100 women.
Older people of both sexes suffer from discrimination, abuse and violence, but older women are usually more vulnerable to “poor access to jobs and healthcare, subjection to abuse, denial of the right to own and inherit property, and lack of basic minimum income and social security,” the report said.
More and more people in their 50s and older are now living with HIV/AIDS, mainly because life-saving antiretroviral therapy has prolonged their lives, but also because of new infections.
Yet older people are excluded from most public information campaigns, the report said.
An estimated 3 million people aged 50 and over are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and half the people living with HIV in the United States will be older than 50 by 2015, it said.
“Diagnosis can be difficult because the symptoms of HIV and AIDS are similar to those of other immunodeficiency symptoms that can occur in later life. Moreover, older persons are frequently – and mistakenly – seen as a sexually inactive group and consequently not at risk of HIV,” the report said.
There is also a “striking lack of data” on HIV among older people because many international organisations publishing HIV-related statistics use the age of 49 as their cut-off point for global reporting.
SEEN BUT NOT HEARD
Older people are extremely vulnerable to conflicts, natural disasters and climate change for age-related reasons, but a majority of them also happen to live in developing countries which are most vulnerable to changes in climate and natural disasters.
Data collected after the 2011 earthquake in Japan showed that 64 percent of the casualties there were people over 60 although they only accounted for one third of the affected population, underlining their vulnerability even in developed countries.
“It is not enough to assume that older people will benefit from programmes targeting the general population, or adults specifically, or that they can always rely on family or community support,” the report said.
Older people have much to contribute to reducing the risks of disasters and adapting to climate change using traditional knowledge, from forecasting weather patterns using the sun and moon to old farming techniques that could protect crops from flooding in lowland areas.
“However, they continue to be excluded from debates on climate change and disaster risk reduction,” the report said.
“As you grow older, you have to come to terms with your role as a lesser citizen who can be seen but not heard,” it quoted an older person from rural Nigeria as saying.
An ageing population poses challenges for both governments and society but “need not be seen as a crisis,” the report said. “It can and should be planned for in order to transform these challenges into opportunities.”