The Impact of Population Ageing on the Economy, Society and Environment - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Impact of Population Ageing on the Economy, Society and Environment

Globally, most countries are ageing more quickly due to declining fertility rates and rising life expectancies. You can explore population aging projections by country with these maps below.

Photo by Matthias Zomer

Falling fertility rates and increasing longevity are driving this global trend of an ageing world population, as evidenced by larger older age groups than younger ones in each country.

The Global Ageing Crisis

By 2050, the world's older population will more than double from its current levels due to fertility declines and rising life expectancies - this trend will have enormous ramifications for societies, economies, and social structures alike.

Low and middle income countries will feel the brunt of population aging most acutely, where numbers of older people are projected to increase significantly due to factors like low fertility, poverty, AIDS-related mortality rates and living conditions that make living conditions worse.

Countries must adapt their health, social protection and employment policies in order to prepare for an aging population. They will need to recognize that older people do not form one homogenous group with similar needs; isolation, abuse and poverty all pose unique challenges; as well as making sure older populations can participate fully in society via participation on labour markets and contributing positively.

One key factor influencing population ageing will be healthcare availability for older individuals. Therefore, governments will need to invest in improving healthcare systems and increasing funding for elderly care as well as provide sufficient support for families of elderly persons.

Population ageing will exacerbate air pollution levels as more elderly become exposed. As this population segment ages, costs associated with treating respiratory diseases due to exposure will likely skyrocket - further jeopardizing attainment of health targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

The global ageing crisis poses not only a challenge for low- and middle-income countries but will have ripple effects throughout society. Even high-income nations will need to make significant adjustments in policy to deal with its effects, including reforming pensions, healthcare and social security - but by acting early they could leverage demographic dividend for economic growth and inclusive development by tapping into its demographic dividend.

What Does It Mean to Live in an Ageing World?

World population recently passed 8 billion, prompting widespread fears of food shortages, unemployment, depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation. Yet our most pressing demographic challenge today is no longer rapid population growth but global aging. Careful planning--combining behavioral changes with investments in human capital and infrastructure as well as policy and institutional reforms as well as technological innovations--can enable countries to meet this challenge and take advantage of any opportunities it presents.

Europe currently has the oldest population worldwide; Asia and Africa follow, followed by developing nations which will see an explosion of older adults by 2050; their share is expected to double from 14% to 21% of global population.

Due to lower labor force participation rates, declining fertility rates and increasing age dependency ratios, many countries will struggle with the increased economic burden posed by their aging populations. But labor market reforms combined with strategies that maximize older workers' earnings and social protection can mitigate some of these challenges.

Policies designed to promote greater physical activity can provide substantial health gains for the elderly. This could be accomplished through encouraging commuters on foot or bike to use public transit more frequently and supporting communities that offer safe spaces for walking and cycling. Promoting healthier diets by decreasing tobacco, unsafe alcohol consumption, sodium, saturated fat and calories levels as well as improving lifestyle can further benefit older people's wellbeing and quality of life.

Air pollution's health costs for older individuals tend to be particularly severe in low and middle income countries where pollution concentrations tend to be higher than high income countries. Increases in pollution-related death and disability among older persons is expected to counterbalance some of the benefits from reduced baseline mortality rates in developing nations.

One key point to keep in mind is that most older people want to stay healthy, and can do so if given adequate support from families or formal care services. But governments also must provide appropriate environments and care systems in order for this to happen.

The Challenges and Opportunities of a Doubling Older Population by 2050

Many countries around the world are witnessing rapid increases in their older populations. Between 2020 and 2050, for instance, between 1 billion and 2 billion will reach sixty years or older; that figure for those eighty years old or over will triple from 226 million to 426 million. These trends can be explained by factors including declining fertility, increasing longevity, and the aging of large birth cohorts like Baby Boomers in developed nations.

Africa is projected to experience the largest increase in older population growth over time - over two hundred percent versus just 30-35% for most European nations over this same timeframe.

One of the primary challenges countries will face is recruiting enough workers to support an aging population, especially as working age people drop. Some countries will see their working age adults decline below 10% and this could have serious ramifications on economic output and living standards.

People aged 50+ tend to experience more health problems as they age, requiring increased medical care costs - an expense which will only grow with an increasing population of older individuals.

However, countries can take steps to lessen the effects of population aging. One is through increasing productivity by investing in new technologies and improving worker education; another way would be increasing immigration levels to boost working age adults; however it will likely remain impossible to prevent older population members from outnumbering working age ones in most nations.

As such, this will have a dramatic impact on the quality of life for all generations. If we can use these extra years to live healthy lives and offer support services to older individuals in our society then they will become assets rather than burdens.

How to Age Well in a Rapidly Ageing World

Recent predictions about our planet's 8 billion population milestone raised concerns of food shortages, rampant unemployment, environmental degradation and other dire outcomes. But today the greatest demographic threat we are facing is not rapid population growth but rather an unprecedented surge in older people; this event poses challenges which require careful preparation through behavioral changes, investments in human capital and infrastructure development, policy reform and institutional changes as well as technological innovations.

Diminished fertility rates and increasing longevity are driving an increase in the proportion of global population aged 60 or above. While in 1950 only eight percent were aged 60+; by 2010 that had grown to eleven percent with projections showing it will reach 21.2 percent by 2050.

This dramatic increase is attributable to both declining birth rates and increasing longevity, and is anticipated to continue. Europe and East Asia have seen fertility rates decline at an increased pace while developing countries are expected to experience even greater increases.

As the proportion of older people grows in any given country, so will their dependents' burden. This strains government budgets and increases social protection and healthcare spending substantially - this may reduce economic growth as governments divert resources away from investments like education or infrastructure projects to provide for this growing older population.

Rising proportions of older people will inevitably incur increased economic costs from air pollution. Population ageing was one of the primary contributors to rising costs between 2000 and 2016 among high-income nations, due to exposure increases outpacing reductions in baseline mortality reductions.

With preparation comes resilience - it is possible to prepare for an ageing world by acting now, as some governments have done already. They have established targets and programs aimed at reducing new infections among elderly populations and improved healthcare for elders while encouraging immigration in order to offset ageing populations.

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