Earlier this week, the human race passed the 7-billion mark, and continues to expand. Much of the attention given to that milestone as focused on the many thousands of births that take place each second all around the world, but especially in India and subsaharan Africa. Yet, the other side of the demographic story must also be taken into account: people live longer. They remain productive later into longer lives, and – as an aggregate – technology helps them live well beyond a few years of retirement.
Which means, despite the many births, the world’s population over 60 will be over 22 percent by 2050. Are we prepared?
The economic and social changes of such a significantly older population will be striking. Nevertheless, few countries seem to be ahead of the curve in terms of setting up policies and institutions to deal with the opportunities, and challenges, of a greying world.
Du Peng, PhD, director of the Institute of Gerontology at Renmin University of China, says that most societies – even in China where the aged are treated with great respect – are organized to encourage the input from younger citizens, with comparatively few opportunities for older adults.
“The goal should be to think about opportunities and supports for volunteering, working, caregiving, tutoring and other productive engagement during the older years… Most societies — including both the United States and China — have barely begun to think about this.” (quoted from Steve Gurney’s)
An irony of the rising median age on the planet is that the rise is testament to better healthcare and technologies that give older people (again, on aggregate) safer, healthier, more productive later years. Yet culturally we are struggling to keep older people integrated as productive and engaged members of society. Moreover, the longevity means these these older people will be parts of their children’s, grandchildren’s, and perhaps great-grandchildren’s lives. Those in their mobile and productive years, in other words, will have both babies and grandparents to watch over.
The National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes on Health surveyed the likely impact of 7+ billion (aging) people in 2008, and the twenty eight-page report can be. As we mark the birth of the 7 millionth baby, how are we celebrating the life of that baby’s great grandparents?