FOR the first time in history, most people can expect to live into their 60s and beyond, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the WHO, by 2050, the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to total two billion, up from 900 million in 2015. Today, 125 million people are aged 80 years or older. By 2050, there will be almost this many (120 million) living in China alone, and 434 million people in this age group worldwide. By 2050, 80 per cent of all older people will live in low- and middle-income countries.
The WHO said the pace of population ageing around the world is also increasing dramatically. France had almost 150 years to adapt to a change from 10 per cent to 20 per cent in the proportion of the population that was older than 60 years. However, places such as Brazil, China and India will have slightly more than 20 years to make the same adaptation.
While this shift in distribution of a country’s population towards older ages — known as population ageing — started in high-income countries (for example, in Japan 30 per cent of the population are already over 60 years old), it is now low- and middle-income countries that are experiencing the greatest change. By the middle of the century many countries Chile, China, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation will have a similar proportion of older people to Japan.
A longer life brings with it opportunities, not only for older people and their families, but also for societies as a whole. Additional years provide the chance to pursue new activities such as further education, a new career or pursuing a long-neglected passion. Older people also contribute in many ways to their families and communities. Yet the extent of these opportunities and contributions depends heavily on one factor: health.
There is, however, little evidence to suggest that older people today are experiencing their later years in better health than their parents. While rates of severe disability have declined in high-income countries over the past 30 years, there has been no significant change in mild to moderate disability over the same period.
If people can experience these extra years of life in good health and if they live in a supportive environment, their ability to do the things they value will be little different from that of a younger person. If these added years are dominated by declines in physical and mental capacity, the implications for older people and for society are more negative.