Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rob Vos
October 1st is the International Day of Older Persons. Just another day? Perhaps, but it should remind us that the world’s population is ageing, brought about by the combined effects of declining mortality and fertility rates and longer longevity. By mid-century, one out of five people will be over 65 compared to over one in ten now.
This is dramatic enough. What is equally compelling is that eighty per cent of older persons in the world will be living in developing countries by then – within two generations.
This ageing of the world’s population is one of humanity’s major achievements. Yet, significant challenges are keeping in step with this historic and emerging trend. For example, can health systems adapt to growing and new demands for care? What about the sustainability of social protection schemes? How do we keep our pension systems viable? These are serious, but solvable challenges.
The challenges are greatest, of course, in developing countries, where the vast majority of older persons lack adequate income protection. In the absence of pension incomes or other social transfers for older persons, the risk of spending one’s older years in poverty rises sharply. Moreover, in most developing countries, poverty compels older persons to continue working as long as they are able to. But reduced capacities, limited job opportunities, low incomes and other factors often combine to reduce their earnings.