aging planet, an old Europe, new problems
Akerib, Vice-Rector SWISS
earth: a rapidly aging population with an average age of slightly
over 29 years of age; an unevenly aging planet with Japan as the
oldest society with an average age of 45 and 80% of the older
people living in developed countries.; a planet with 7% of its
population being over 65 years of age; a tripling of that population
over the last 50 years and another tripling in the coming 50 years
to reach 21%, or 2 billion persons.
The earth: a planet with a larger share of over 60s than of
Europe has the highest proportion of older people, with 22% of
the population older than 60 and scheduled to reach 34% by 2050,
with Southern Europe even reaching 38%. This means that that the
segment of the population over 65 is larger than the segment under
The over-80-years-old segment is also growing at a steadily fast
pace. By 2100 Europe will have a larger percentage of its population
over 80 than the share of the population under 20. Those over
80 years old - expected to grow from 14% of the world's population
today to 19% (392 million persons) in 2050. That segment of the
population is essentially feminine.
The economy of aging
If a large proportion - 31% - of the over-60 segment works, only
8% have a paid occupation in the developed countries, and those
are essentially men. Coupled with a low birth rate, a number of
economic challenges are raised.
The increase in life expectancy coupled with the decrease in fertility
leads to a rise in old age dependency ratios with a resulting
negative effect on per capita income growth. The global dependency
ratio is expected to rise sharply after 2020, leading to increased
poverty for the retired segment as well as a reduction in fiscal
There are two basic assumptions behind this reasoning:
- As the population
declines, there is a decrease in demand for goods and services
and therefore a reduction in economic growth and employment
- Governments will be unable to pay pensions and health care
for an increasingly large share of the population and improve
to 2030 for the old-age dependency ratio in at least two countries
- Italy and Sweden - are as high as two persons of working supporting
one person over 65.
An aging society puts pressure on public spending due to increases
in the payment of pensions, in health spending and in social care
Health in an aging society
Health costs of people over 65 are three times those of people
between 20 and 64 and continue to grow over the lifetime of a
person. The UN estimates that the worldwide cost of dementia is
over 600 billion dollars a year.
The four main diseases affecting older populations are depression,
fractures and concussions due to falls, memory loss and urinary
incontinence. In general, women suffer more from these disabilities
Only a small minority of older people obtain professional end-of-life
care. Society relies mostly on unpaid relatives, generally women,
and the period lasts an average of 5 years. Those requiring care
are over 80 years of age and this segment of the population is
expected to grow significantly over the coming years. Thus more
caregivers will be required, whether professional or family members.
The average care giver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside
the home and spends about 20 hours a week providing unpaid care
for her mother. This reduces the need and therefore the cost,
of nursing homes and prevents an increase in immigration.
Several European countries have made the choice of allowing older
people to be maintained at home. It implies that several million
persons need an adaptation of their housing, an extremely expensive
exercise. Nevertheless, in Denmark, 12% of the housing has already
been adapted to the needs of the aging population.
With the aging of the population there is a proportional rise
in pension payments and of their share of GDP. There is a very
large gap between the income people expect at retirement and their
savings - the figure in Europe for this gap stands at nearly 2
trillion euros per year. This means that 40% of the people that
are to retire may have to work longer.
The baby boomers were able to generate considerable savings towards
the latter part of their career. However, as that generation retires,
savings will diminish substantially and that will affect the pensions
in the coming years. Spending from that age group will therefore
diminish and it cannot be counted on to generate an economy rebound.
Today, the market catering to baby boomers is a major growth market.
As pensions are reduced, retirees will have to live on their savings,
erasing any hope of an inheritance for their children. To avoid
a repeat of this situation, the succeeding generations may decrease
their spending and increase their savings.
The urban environment
The urban environment needs to be adapted to an aging society
- more frequent bus stops, more benches, a larger number of stores.
This will result in a higher infrastructure cost per capita as
the population shrinks.
With the reduction in the offer of labor, economic growth will
Possible solutions to the problems faced by aging societies include
postponing the retirement age, increasing productivity through
investments in training and increasing immigration flows.
Working beyond retirement age has positive effects on health,
particularly if the job is a low-stress one. This is particularly
true if continuing to work is a deliberate choice. Some, if not
all, the seniors, would have to be retrained to use new technologies
to maintain productivity and increase employability.
Studies have shown that allowing seniors to engage in a productive
activity increases the GDP by 10%.
Alternative solutions include higher contributions during the
working life, a reduction in health care expenditures and services
or a more substantial immigration. Germany and Sweden have implemented
a system whereby each person chooses the age at which he or she
retires, and the pensions are adjusted accordingly.
The voting power of the seniors, who will represent an increased
share of the electorate, will force governments to take difficult
decisions in resource allocation - should the weighing be towards
taking care of the elderly or of the shrinking younger population
to increase their productivity through training.
Driven by the electorate, governments might allow easier immigration
for younger people, particularly with health care qualifications
to take care of the aging population. To maintain the European
population steady at present levels, the immigration flow would
have to be of the order of 1.5 million per year. The flow of immigrants
probably coming from the Muslim world, cultural conflicts would
Alternatively, entrepreneurs might draw pensioners to developing
countries where pensions go a longer way than in their home countries.
An aging society is less likely to see innovative entrepreneurship
and therefore will have a reduced economic growth. Attracting
investments from countries that have large amounts of funds to
invest abroad, such as China, could be a solution.
Major decisions lie ahead for governments that face problems that
they have not faced before.
Future Now Show with
B.J. Murphy and Katie Aquino
month we roam through current events, discoveries, and challenges
- sparking discussion about the connection between today and the
futures we're making - and what we need, from strategy to vision
- to make the best ones.
Future Now Show
B.J. Murphy, a Technoprogressive
Transhumanist activist, USA
aka Miss Metaverse, Futurista, USA
Paul Holister, Editor, Summary Text
Since prehistory humans have indulged in painting, puncturing
and deforming their bodies for aesthetic reasons. In recent years
this has taken a twist, with body hackers taking to incorporation
of technology into their own bodies, from magnets (essentially
endowing a new, magnetic, sense) to various electronic devices,
which might start your car, track biometrics or pay for your shopping,
or simply LEDs under the skin for decoration. Advances in areas
from 3D printing (which is applicable both to prosthetics and
the creation of replacement organs) to neurology to gene editing
might, or maybe should, bring about a convergence of the realms
of medical prosthetics, (cosmetic) surgery and the tattoo parlour.
- Paul Holister