Blog Post

World Population Aging at Record Rate

elderly groupA new report has found that the population is aging at so rapid a rate that by the year 2050, 17 percent of the world’s population will be age 65 and over, a scenario that will put unprecedented strain upon the world’s economy.

The report, entitled “An Aging World: 2015”, has found that the world’s older population is growing at an extraordinary rate with 8.5 percent (617 million) of the world now over the age of 65. At this rate, that number will skyrocket to 1.6 billion, or 17 percent of the global population by 2050, putting tremendous strain on national socioeconomic and health care policies.

Commissioned by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and produced by the U.S. Census Bureau., the report examines the demographic, health and socioeconomic trends accompanying the growth of the aging population.

“Older people are a rapidly growing proportion of the world’s population,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “People are living longer, but that does not necessarily mean that they are living healthier. The increase in our aging population presents many opportunities and also several public health challenges that we need to prepare for."

The report looks at this phenomenon from a variety of angles, such as life expectancy, gender balance, health, mortality, disability, health care systems, labor force participation and retirement, as well as pensions and poverty among older people around the world.

“We are seeing population aging in every country in every part of the world,” said John Haaga, Ph.D., acting director of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research. “Many countries in Europe and Asia are further along in the process, or moving more rapidly, than we are in the United States. Since population aging affects so many aspects of public life — acute and long-term health care needs; pensions, work and retirement; transportation; housing — there is a lot of potential for learning from each other’s experience.”

Highlights of the report include

• America’s 65-and-over population is projected to nearly double over the next three decades, from 48 million to 88 million by 2050.

• By 2050, global life expectancy at birth is projected to increase by almost eight years, climbing from 68.6 years in 2015 to 76.2 years in 2050.

• The global population of the “oldest old” — people aged 80 and older — is expected to more than triple between 2015 and 2050, growing from 126.5 million to 446.6 million. The oldest old population in some Asian and Latin American countries is predicted to quadruple by 2050.

It’s interesting to note that the report documents the impact of the dearth of children particularly in the West where low birth rates have impeded population growth. This means fewer people entering the workforce to pay for the social security benefits of aging populations.

Low birth rates have also increased the number of aging adults who are childless and have no children to care for them as they age. At present, about 10 percent of the population of Europe is over the age of 50 and childless. Because children still provide the majority of care for aging parents, the growth of the childless sector will put further strain on governments to provide them with proper care at the public’s expense.

“Traditionally, children are the mainstay of old age support,” the report states. “However, people are not only living longer but also having fewer children, with rising childlessness among the older people. Thus new challenges arise: Who will provide help and care to the childless older people? On what support networks can they rely? And, what role does the state play in care provision?”

Prior studies have already shown that in the absence of children, vital support for older persons has been taken over by public providers in many countries in Europe. However, in countries with low social service provision such as Italy, Spain, and Poland, older people are thus likely to experience a lack of help.”

For decades, Church leaders such as St. John Paul II have repeatedly warned against the proliferation of birth control programs that cause catastrophic harm upon entire populations, not just the generations that were not permitted to be born. Those warnings are now becoming realities with which we must now grapple.

As the report states in its conclusion, of all the demographic trends underway in the world today, it is population aging—and how to deal with it, that has become the most consequential of all.

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