07-04-2016

Challenges and perspectives for an ageing international population


A recent study, published by the American Census Bureau, indicated that by 2020, the population of 65 years old and older, on an international level, will be more numerous than those of children aged less than 5 years. Elderly people will represent 17% of the planet’s inhabitants compared to 8.5% today.

This international ageing process can be explained in 2 manners:

  • “Aging on the top” or increasing of life expectancy: from 48 years in 1950, it become 71 years in 2015. Half of today born children may be hundred years old.
  • “Low scale ageing” or almost global lowering of the fertility rate on the whole planet: it has gone from 5 children per woman in 1950 to 2.5 children per woman in 2015.

“Individuals live longer but not necessarily in better health; and the ageing population poses several challenges to public health for which we need to be prepared” underlined Dr Richard Hodes, director of the American National Institute on Ageing (NIA).

The preparation of different countries to cope with their ageing population varies considerably from one continent to another. The African population, still predominantly very young, has not yet undergone this transition, compared to the population in Europe, USA and Japan, where the transition took place rather naturally.

It is different in China: It is the country that appears to present the most problems regarding this situation, since its status changed, from that of “a young country” to that of an “older country” with almost no transition period. It should be recalled that a few months ago China abandoned the one child policy that was started in the 70’s, but perhaps it was a little too late… The counterpart of this rapid ageing is that China is now an enormous opportunity for the “silver economy”.

And the situation in France?

French people are very preoccupied by their health, and more particularly by their ageing, according to a HSBC survey carried out at the end of April. The majority of them had not anticipated their old years, neither financially nor materially. Furthermore, a large number of senior citizens must also care for very elderly parents.

One first positive consequence for an ageing population would be the development of home care services, which creates jobs, as well as infrastructures needed for taking care of elderly individuals. The law for adapting society for ageing from December 2015 lists some of the first elements to address this challenge.

A second consequence, which could be positive but also negative, would be the development of the market of robots to assist people who are losing autonomy, faced with the potential lack of qualified individuals. Japan is playing the leading role in this marketplace and France too has performed well in this area. Most assuredly, ethical rules need to be established to deal with this new market which could help address the demographical issues totally unseen until now in the history of humanity.