The world is experiencing a shift in the population composition ⁠— the number of elderly people now exceeds the number of children,  based on the data from the United Nations (UN) Population Division.

The interactive graph above shows the UN population estimates from 1950 up to 2015 and population projections from 2016 up to 2100.

The first time the elderly (65+ years) people surpassed the number of children (below five years of age)  was in 2018.

By around 2070, the number of elderly people will exceed the number of people who are 15 years below in age.

But why?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the ageing of the world’s population is the result of two things:

  1. Decline in fertility rates
  2. Increase in life expectancy

In simple terms, people appear to be living longer but are reproducing less than older generations did in the past.

In an interview with BBC, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington Christopher Murray said that elderly people dominating the numbers compared to children will increase the difficulty of sustaining the world in a global scale

Is population ageing a bad thing?

Not per se. While the elderly people, of course, have some physical limitations, a lot of them continue to work in a paid or unpaid capacity. Some of them also assist their family members or do post-retirement work in organizations. The elderly people carry decades-worth of knowledge and experience that they can pass on to the younger generations.

As the BBC points out, however, the ageing population also implies a decrease in the available workforce essential to our economy.

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If left unattended, the ageing of the population can pose a problem. Some things that can be done to mitigate the effects of population ageing include:

01. Promoting elderly health

Improving elderly health will lower healthcare costs. It will also allow the elderly to retain much more energy to perform productive tasks. WHO currently works on these two healthcare-related areas:

  • Prevention of chronic disease
  • Access to age-friendly primary health care

02. Diversifying the workforce

BBC said that the diversity of the workforce is an often overlooked topic when it comes to ageing of the population. Women are less represented in the workforce, tapping their potential by making hiring practices and company policies equitable will also help ease the problem of ageing.

On a similar note, International Labour Organization economist Ekkehard Ernst remarked:

“Economies with higher labour force participation rates for women experience fewer growth downturns. More women workers not only make economies more resilient to adverse economic shocks but a labour force with more women also represents a powerful anti-poverty tool.”

03. Creation of age-friendly environments

Most of our infrastructures and workplaces are not accommodating to elderly people. We must make sure that our environment itself is age-inclusive. This is another area that serves as the focus of the WHO.

With strong, inclusive policy and city-building, ageing populations do not have to be a bad thing.

People living longer is an indication of our progress in healthcare. On the flip side, the hesitation of people to reproduce speaks of the cost of raising children. We must address both sides of the coin in order to keep this matter under control.

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