Older people in Latin America

Population ageing: Navigating the demographic shift

As the world moves forward into the 21st century, a profound demographic transformation is reshaping our societies: population ageing.


This global phenomenon, driven by declining birth rates and increasing life expectancy, is resulting in a steadily growing proportion of older people within populations.

The implications of this shift are vast and multifaceted, impacting economic stability, healthcare systems, and social dynamics on an unprecedented scale.

Navigating the challenges and harnessing the opportunities of population ageing is not merely a matter of policy, but a critical imperative for ensuring sustainable and inclusive development in our rapidly evolving world.


Current trends in population ageing

Globally, population ageing is accelerating. According to the United Nations, the number of people aged 60 years and above is expected to double by 2050, reaching approximately 2.1 billion. This trend is not confined to developed nations; developing countries are also experiencing significant demographic shifts. This trend is the strongest in Asia, where by 2050, one in four people will be over 60.  

In 2020, for the first time in history, the number of people aged 60 years and older surpassed the number of children under five years of age. This milestone underscores the rapid pace at which populations are ageing and highlights the urgency for policies and strategies to address the accompanying challenges. 

However, this is not necessarily a bad thing.  

Older people enrich the social fabric, promoting cohesion, continuity, and collective well-being. They serve as mentors, offering guidance, emotional support, and resilience. Their involvement in community service, volunteer work, and economic activities strengthens social bonds and local economies. Intergenerational interactions foster mutual learning and respect, and their contributions to childcare and family support enhance bonds. Older people also advocate for beneficial policies, ensuring diverse perspectives in civic matters.


Why is population ageing important?

Since HelpAge International was founded 40 years ago, the demographic changes created by an ageing population have changed the shape of societies all over the world.

Population ageing affects society in numerous ways.

  • Economically, an ageing population can influence labour markets, pension systems, and fiscal policies. As the number of retirees grows, the burden on social security systems and pension funds increases, potentially leading to financial strain if not managed effectively. 
  • Healthcare systems also face significant challenges. Older people typically require medical attention, long-term care, and specialised services, driving up healthcare costs and demanding more healthcare professionals trained in geriatric care. 
  • Socially, population ageing can alter family dynamics and community structures. With fewer younger people to support older generations, traditional family roles and caregiving responsibilities may need to shift, necessitating changes in social support systems and community services.

Rapidly ageing countries

Several countries are ageing at unprecedented rates.

Japan leads the way as the most aged society, with nearly 30% of its population over 65.

Germany and Italy follow with around 21% and 23%, respectively, caused by low birth rates and high life expectancy.

In Asia, South Korea and China are also aging rapidly; South Korea has one of the lowest fertility rates, and China’s one-child policy has significantly shifted its age structure, with over 30% of its population (approx. 44 million) projected to be over 60 by 2040.

In Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are experiencing notable increases in their older populations, with South Africa’s elderly population expected to grow from 8% in 2022 to 15% by 2050.

In Latin America, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are leading the demographic shift, with Brazil’s elderly population projected to rise from 13% in 2022 to 29% by 2050.

How has HelpAge addressed population ageing in the past 40 years? 

The HelpAge global network works extensively to address the challenges and opportunities associated with population ageing, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Our efforts are multifaceted and include advocacy, policy development, community-based initiatives, and research.  

Here are the key aspects of our work:  

  1. Global network collaboration – At the heart of our work is the HelpAge global network, which brings together more than 170 organisations worldwide to unite in the mission of creating a fairer world for older people. The network collaborates to strengthen national, regional, and global influence around issues of ageing, sharing information, knowledge, and best practices to inspire a movement for change.
  2. Advocacy and policy development – HelpAge advocates for the rights and inclusion of older people in national and international policies. We emphasise the need for age-inclusive policies and programmes that ensure the participation of all ages. This includes advocating for a comprehensive international legally binding instrument to protect the rights of older people (like a UN convention on the rights of older persons) and integrating ageing issues into the agendas of multilateral banks, international financial institutions, and regional institutions.
  3. Community-based initiatives – The HelpAge global network supports the formation and operation of Older People’s Associations (OPAs), which are community-based groups that engage older adults in various activities, including income generation, health care, and social support. These associations promote the rights of older people, protect them from abuse and discrimination, and help combat loneliness by keeping them connected.
  4. Research and data collection – HelpAge conducts and supports research to inform policymaking and programme development with a specific emphasis on the importance of gender and culture-sensitive research on ageing and ensure that data and evidence from this research are available to policymakers. This research helps in understanding the specific needs of older people and developing targeted interventions.
  5. Act on climate change – HelpAge highlights the critical link between ageing populations and climate change. We advocate for inclusive responses to climate change that consider the vulnerabilities and contributions of older people. Our reports and recommendations aim to ensure that older people are not left invisible in climate change debates and actions.
  6. Humanitarian response – We work to ensure that older people are included in humanitarian responses. We highlight the neglect of older people in crises and advocate for their inclusion in national emergency response plans, climate change mitigation and adaptation plans, and disaster management programmes.
  7. Promoting intergenerational approaches – HelpAge promotes intergenerational approaches to address ageism and discrimination. We work to develop inter-generational groups within communities to find solutions for the economic security of older adults and community-based health care. This approach aims to build a society where everyone thrives and is healthy as they age.

Population ageing is an inevitable demographic shift with significant implications for economies, healthcare systems, and social structures. By implementing comprehensive and forward-thinking strategies, we can ensure that ageing populations contribute positively to our world.

Addressing population ageing requires collaboration across sectors and a commitment to creating inclusive, supportive, and sustainable societies. By leveraging the potential of an ageing population, we can build a future that benefits all generations.