Posts Tagged ‘ageing societies’

Have a look at those two demographic pyramids:

From 1950 to 2019 there has been a clear change in the European demographic structure. Low birth rates combined with higher life expectancy have transformed a pyramid into a barrel. Why we keep calling it “pyramid” is beyond my comprehension.

Enough has been said about the challenges and pressure put on the fiscal structure due to the demographic evolution.

The other side of the coin is the many possibilities opened by the natural ageing of the baby-boomer generation that made up the base of the pyramid of the 1950s. That generation, today in their 50s and older, is probably the generation with the best education and   economic resources  to “come of age” in the last 100 years. It is made up of the sons and daughters of the welfare state, with compulsory schooling and guaranteed pensions.

In the past month, two papers worth reading have come to my attention. One is focused on the United States, “The Longevity Economic Outlook”. The second focuses on Spain, “Los senior en España”.

The common denominator of both papers is how important for the economy and society it is to integrate and profit from the vitality of the 50 plus generations. As an example, that section of the population contributes 40% to the GDP of the United States and represents 44% of the work force.

As for Spain, where 39% of the population is 51 years old and older (see INE), the most striking feature, in contrast with tradition, is their answer in the survey about plans for their heirs. Over 60% responds that their children’s inheritance is their education. Add to that an average income of 1,500€ per month for almost 80% of them and you will get a generation with a propensity to consume well above the level of previous generations.

In short, once the pandemic is over, society has to make room for a generation of old people that does not feel old and that is ready to consume and be an active part of society for much longer than their forefathers.

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I was invited by The Economist to attend their conference on Ageing Societies, held in London (UK) during the 29th and 30th of November. I will not pretend to summarize one and a half days in this short post. I will try, nevertheless, to bring out those three interventions and a message that, to me, were more relevant.

Let´s start with the message. I have been involved with ageing for a long time. My first public intervention was at the London School of Economics in March 2011 although, previously, I attended the AAL Forum at Odense in 2010. Since then I have focused the problem on “older people”. No wonder, since I have worked with several hospitals dedicated to the rehabilitation of older people since 2006. Ten years make a mark on a person. So, the first realization was that at the conference we were not talking about “older people”; we were talking about “Ageing Societies”, which is completely different. The world population is ageing; from Asia to Europe and America and even in Africa. Societies are ageing. The socio-economic infrastructure was designed to care for a nice population pyramid, not for a population cylinder or, even worst, an inverted pyramid. Accordingly, we have to redesign the socio-economic infrastructure in general and the care infrastructure in particular so as to be able to handle an Ageing Society.

John Beard´s presentation (from the WHO) was a masterpiece introducing the importance of health care for the future of our societies. His presentation, based on the “Report on Ageing and Health”, highlighted two important aspects that we tend to forget. One is that older people are diverse. Probably because we are used to giving certain benefits linked to age, for example free entrance to museums or cheaper public transportation for over 65s, we put everybody over 65 into the same category. Of course this is not real and older people have very different functional capabilities. This was the second aspect. The category used to guide our efforts in dealing with an ageing society should be functional capability. The above mentioned report states that “burdens of disability and death arise from age related losses in hearing, seeing and moving, and non-communicable diseases”. So, it is my interpretation that we should move from focusing on age to focusing on those disabilities that hinder our functional capabilities. And it should be noticed that those kinds of disabilities do not come only with old age. They pop up at any time; how many young people need glasses?

It was mentioned by someone during the Focus on Asia interview that “the problem in an ageing society lies with the young people in their 30s”. Natalia Kanem (from the UN Population Fund) expanded on the same idea, and more. She introduced us, through the “The State of World Population 2016”, to the fact that “investing in 10-year-old girls could yield huge demographic dividends”. It all boils down to the same idea: prevention is the key to a successful design of our ageing societies. It is my belief that, unless we invest in our youth now, our societies are not going to be able to cope with the on-going demographic change.

And finally, the last intervention that I would like to bring to you was about breaking silos. When talking about ageing and its related problems, there is a part of society which focusses almost exclusively on social and health factors. There are also other professionals that focus exclusively on economic and financial factors. To my knowledge, very little has been done to bring those two worlds together. And a token sample of that lack is the composition of the speakers in the panel: both of them were from the financial sector with no representative of the other silo: the care sector. Nevertheless, the point was made: silos have to come down and the financial aspects of an ageing society have to be intertwined with the care aspects. So far their courses have run parallel. Now they should start running together.

I could summarize that tackling the problems of our ageing societies needs an intervention in our youth of today, fostering the development of their own functional capabilities in a holistic way, combining the socio-health-financial aspects of every human being.

And this is my summary of one and half days of a very intensive and interesting event.

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