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Longer lives “a call to action” for the 21st Century

31 Jan 2011

Rapid global ageing will affect all of us. Image from Foreign Affairs website.Is the world beginning to take notice of global ageing?

The message that extended life expectancy, falling fertility rates and accelerating ageing are now truly global phenomena seems to be getting a wider hearing, and in the past few months a number of different voices have been raised on the issue.

Global ageing vs. global economy

In an article in the December 2010 edition of "Foreign Affairs" for example, Nicholas Eberstadt writes: "It is apparent that the future global economy will not be able to rely on the kind of demographic inputs that helped fuel growth in the era before the current global recession".

Rapid population ageing, he argues, represents an almost entirely undiscounted long-term risk for the world's emerging countries.

Eberstadt's message - that both rich and poor countries need to make far-reaching changes in working arrangements, lifestyles, business practices, and government policies finds echoes elsewhere.

Population ageing will affect us all

Also in December, the World Bank published a report on the economic impacts of demographic transition "Some Consequences of Global Aging".

One of the authors, Daniel Cotlear, says: "Population ageing is a global issue that is affecting, or will soon affect, virtually every country around the world, at a time when family support and other traditional safety nets have become less certain...many developing countries are getting older before they become more prosperous, which is the reverse of the OECD experience, and cause for worry".

But this report argues against the "time bomb perception" of ageing populations and says that with smart policies in labour markets, social security, long-term care and public health in place, governments can manage the economic and social needs of their ageing societies.

Demographic change needs global action

This more optimistic perspective is also taken by a new initiative, just launched in New York, which has added significant weight to those making the case for more global attention to demographic change. The "Global Coalition on Aging", a partnership of ten international corporations, aims "to help nations and industry advance sustainable solutions that address the unprecedented demographic transformation already underway".

Because this is a private sector initiative, the focus is on "innovative market solutions enabled by progressive public policy". But the vision - longer healthier lives, life-course learning, and more years of productive work to increase individual financial security - is one that all organisations working on ageing - whether for profit or not for profit - can share. Nor need our perspective be limited any longer by the idea that ageing is a challenge just for the "developed world".

Ageing belongs on global policy agenda

As Michael Hodin, Executive Director of the Global Coalition on Aging, puts it in his recent blog - Age & Reason - maybe this debate will create the focus needed to make policymakers take notice. "While healthy aging didn't make it into the UN Millennium Goals", he says, this topic "belongs right up there on the global policy agenda".

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Mark Gorman
Country: U.K
Job title: Director of Strategic Development

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.