The world is projected to reach a profound turning point this year. For the first time in history, the number of people aged 65 years and over (“older people”) will exceed the number of children under 5 years old.
The estimate for 2030 is 1 billion older people, accounting for 13 percent of the total population. The proportions of older people are typically highest in more developed countries, but their numbers are now growing faster in the less developed world. A 140-percent increase in the number of older people is projected for less developed countries between 2006 and 2030, nearly three times faster than the 51-percent increase expected in more developed countries. On a global level, the 85-and-over population was projected to increase 151 percent between 2005 and 2030, compared to a 104-percent increase for the population aged 65 and over, and a 21-percent increase for the population under age 65.
All this is happening because fertility has been declining while health and longevity are improving. More developed countries began to see declining fertility in the early 1900s, leading to current fertility levels that are below the population replacement rate of two live births per woman. Surprisingly, fertility has declined at an even faster pace in many less developed countries in the past 20 years. Projections by the United Nations have the number of people aged 60 and above growing 56 percent from 901 million in 2015 to 1.4 billion in 2030, and more than doubling to 2.1 billion by 2050. But unlike past generations of the elderly, the coming cohort of senior citizens would be the first to age with a generally higher level of health and education, owing to dramatic technological developments that have improved public health and education. In particular, public health has seen great advancements in disease prevention and control, while advances in the neurosciences and in information and communication technology have similarly enhanced the state of education. However, the oldest old have the highest population levels of disability that require long-term care because of chronic disease. As such, they consume a disproportionate amount of public resources, which can be a fiscal burden to less-endowed economies.
It took France more than a century for its population aged 65 and above to increase from 7 to 14 percent of total population; Brazil will take only two decades to see the same demographic aging process transpire. Institutions need to adapt quickly to the changing age structure. Some less-developed nations are forced to confront issues such as social support and allocation of resources across generations, but without the accompanying economic growth that characterized the experience of aging societies in the West.