UN Commission discusses how to meet the needs of an ageing global society

In early April, the UN Commission on Population and Development met to discuss the changing age demographics around the globe and how these trends might be harnessed for development in some of the world’s least developed regions. According to the report of the Commission, the major trend in global age demographics is that, overall, the world population is ageing. They project that from 2015 to 2050, the percentage of the world’s population that will be over the age of 64 will increase from 8% to 16%. In order to cope with these changes, policies and investments will need to be altered on the global and national levels in order to ensure that the economic and labor output of the working-age population (ages 25-64), will be enough to provide for the needs of the children (ages 0-14), youth (ages 15-24), and older persons (over age 64). While ageing will be experienced by societies across the globe, it is important to note that the responses to this trend will vary greatly by region in accordance with the very different demographics that are currently in place on each continent. The Commission projects the following continental changes in the percentage of people over age 64:

  • Europe: 18% in 2015 to 28% in 2050
  • North America: 15% to 23%
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 8% to 20%
  • Oceania: 12% to 18%
  • Asia: 8% to 18%
  • Africa: 3% to 6%

Ageing societies whose temporary surge in birth rate occurred several decades ago (e.g. Europe and North America) will likely aim to meet this trend by strengthening social protection systems (such as pension and healthcare), increasing the official retirement age, and investing in innovations in medicine that may extend individuals’ years of able-bodied labor. These societies may increasingly recognize the benefits of immigration to their challenges as an ageing population, because immigration tends to infuse societies with working-age adults, many of whom have children. They may also encourage greater openness of workplaces to women through policies that would reduce work-family tensions that have historically forced women to choose, to some degree, between entering the formal labor market and having children. Such changes would allow women greater capacity to contribute to economic productivity and to bolster the child and youth populations.

The populations of youthful societies (e.g. Africa and Asia) have historically had very high birth rates but been kept from maturing to older age due to high child mortality and limited healthcare. In Africa, these phenomena have created a scenario in which 62% of the population is under the age of 25 and the majority of their societies’ resources must be devoted to providing for dependent children rather than on development. Due to improvements in reproductive and maternal health services as well as childhood health interventions, birth rates and child mortality have begun to decrease, and youthful societies may be in a position to reap great benefits as their large child and youth populations come of age to participate in the work force. In order to “harness the demographic dividend,” the Commission said these societies will need to ensure universal access to family planning services, keep girls in school to avoid early child bearing, continue improving healthcare, and make economic reforms that ensure that economic growth is inclusive of all marginalized groups and great enough to provide decent work for the growing working-age population.

This presentation offers more data from the Commission’s report.