What's happening with the world's ageing population?

The violation of human rights and insufficient legal guarantees of equality are some of the issues affecting older people around the world.


The world's ageing population has drastically increased in the last decades. In the last 60 years life expectancy worldwide rose from 46 to 68 years and it is projected to increase to 81 by the end of the century. Today there are almost 700 million people over the age of 60. More so, by 2050 there will be more people over 60 than children in  the world.  With these in mind, it is important to analyze and understand the situation of older people around the world as many suffer from insufficient legal guarantees, inequality and human rights violations.

At the beginning of the month the UN celebrated the "International Day of Older Persons." The day aims at "encouraging countries to draw attention to and challenge negative stereotypes and misconceptions about older persons and ageing, and to enable older persons to realize their potential to build a life of dignity and human rights."

At the time, SG Ban Ki-moon stated, despite the common belief of older persons enjoying a particular respect, the reality is too many societies limit them with marginalization and devaluing. In his message he said, "Ending ageism and securing the human rights of older persons is an ethical and practical imperative,”  urging governments to address human rights violations and ensuring legal guarantees for equality to prevent discrimination.

The challenges vary, for example, according to the UN Population Fund the most of the projected older population is expected to take place in developing countries and is it uncertain if they will get the adequate income protection in the absence of pension or other social transfers. This could mean the risk of ageing population to pass their older years in poverty rises. Also, in developing countries older persons continue to work as long as they're able, but reduced capacities limit job opportunities and result in low incomes.

Another example is added responsibilities, like care of grandchildren in Sub-Saharan Africa due to migration, disease, disability or death. Despite additional transfer from social networks and family members, can provide additional security for older people, their incomes remain unstable.

In an article for IPS News Agency Jomo Kwame Sundaram, once UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development and Rob Vos, Director of Agricultural Development Economics at FAO propose “Pensions for all.” They remark there is a growing consensus that pensions for all are affordable, even for the poorest nations.

“Some developing countries have managed to introduce social pensions that provide minimal income security to all persons in old age. These schemes are typically tax-financed rather than based on contributions made while employed,” they write.

Therefore, anybody who reaches a certain age can get a pension, or benefits are given to those who show they have no other means to survive. For example, in Botswana, Bolivia and Mauritius, these pensions are given to all who have reached the age of 65. In Argentina, Namibia and South Africa these benefits are targeted to the poor.

But is this affordable? According to the authors using taxpayers money to such purposes significantly contribute in poverty reduction and facilitate older persons participation in society. For example in Brazil only 3.5% of those who receive a social pension remain poor, but 51% don’t. In Mauritius these pension scheme has reduced poverty in older persons by more than 40%.

More so, Sundaram and Vos report these pension benefits are often shared with the household and family members, and this is the case of Namibia where more than 70% of pension income is shared. In Bolivia higher caloric consumption and lower school dropout rates were seen in rural households benefiting from the pension benefit. In Brazil, the pension has been linked to higher expenditure on seeds and tools to support agricultural production.

In more general terms, according to a UN study, in two-thirds of developing countries it is possible to afford to provide older persons with a minimum income as it cost its societies less than one percent of national income.

But it is less affordable for some of the poorest countries, who have fewer fiscal resources and many demands. But in this cases, note the authors, countries could turn to the donor community who’s already supporting education and health budgets to contribute for this cause.

“With international solidarity, a pension for all is affordable. Therefore, priorities should be set to ensure that ageing is an achievement that can be cherished by all humanity,” they conclude.


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