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Report Examines Global Aging Phenomenon

Resource type: News

PHI Blog |

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PHI is an Atlantic grantee.

By Matt Cardin

A new report commissioned by the National Institute on Aging and issued last month by the U.S. Census Bureau examines the demographic and socioeconomic effects of the unprecedented rate at which the world’s population is aging.

Authors Kevin Kinsella and Wan He explain in the introduction to An Aging World: 2008 (pdf) that the increase is due partly to the post-World War II baby boom and partly to lower death rates at older ages.

Notable trends identified by the authors include:

  • Populations are aging: People 65 and older will soon outnumber people under age 5 for the first time in history.
  • The numbers of very old people are increasing fastest: the total population expected to grow 33 percent over the next two decades but the over-80 population is expected to grow 233 percent and the over-65 population 160 percent.
  • Chronic noncommunicable diseases are becoming an increasing burden.
  • Family structures are changing as people grow older and have fewer children, leading to a shift in care options for older age.
  • Existing health and pension systems are coming under increasing stress.
  • More countries are being forced to rethink and revamp their social insurance systems.

The authors note a widespread shift away from caring for elders in institutions:

Since the 1980s, social and governmental thinking (at least in Western countries) about the desirability of institutionalization has changed. Most member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) have encouraged more home- and community-based care as an alternative to institutional care, and rates of institutionalization have been dropping.

. . . . Given the changes in family structure and kin availability, home help services reduce the need for institutionalization.

In the report’s conclusion they offer some thoughts about the broad implications of all these developments:

In one sense, the reality of global aging represents a triumph of medical, social, and economic advances. In another sense, population aging produces myriad challenges to social insurance and pension schemes, health care systems, and existing models of social support. It affects economic growth, disease patterns and prevalence, and fundamental assumptions about growing older.

They also point out that most governments have not yet begun planning to accommodate these new realities, and that “reform becomes more difficult as the pace of population aging accelerates.”

Steve Edelstein, PHI National Policy Director, says the report, “corroborates what we at PHI have been saying for some time: our population is aging, so we must act at the state and national levels to make sure a well-supported eldercare workforce is in place. By investing in quality direct-care jobs, we will ensure the quality care we all want for our elders, now — and in the future.”

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