Newsbrief, TerraViva United Nations

An Ageing World Population Raises Serious Concerns

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 4 2015 (IPS) - Human beings are born, live and grow old. But recent global trends on a growing ageing population are raising serious concerns among governments worldwide.

“The reduction of fertility, as part of the demographic transition, causes population ageing. This is universally true, and affects, or will soon affect, all countries in the world” John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division at the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), told IPS, following a panel discussion on November 3 on ‘Policy Responses to Low Fertility.’

The meeting was co-hosted by UNDESA and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea.

In her opening remarks, Ambassador Youngju Oh, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea, said: “Declining mortality and fertility over the past two decades in most parts of the world, including in particular Korea (1.2 births per woman), have led to a significant shift in the age structure of world population, bringing a range of social as well as economic implications to the countries facing this issue.”

Ambassador Oh warned that “prospects of future demographic changes at the national as well as the global level have the potential to alter global development,” urging for the need to address efficient and responsive policies to this new challenge.

People live longer today due to improved conditions of living, which, in turn, has led to a reduction in human mortality, said Wilmoth, highlighting the new concept of “modern” family.

Today, having a smaller family nucleus is remarkable and a “sign of success of our species”, as compared to, in previous decades, having larger families – for women had to compensate high mortality rates with higher fertility.

People should accept and adapt to the fact there will be bigger proportions of older people rather than children and young people, in the near future, he added.

Therefore, ageing is not the problem, but “the challenge is that it is occurring at a very rapid pace,” especially in countries with low fertility rates – well below two children per woman – such as central and southern Europe and East Asia, Wilmoth said.

He also underlined the fact that smaller families are the result of modern life. “Higher costs of living, education – especially for girls, enhanced women role’s in the society, and longer working schedules, had profound influences on fertility and ageing population. This, in the long term, can create problems, in terms of social and governmental support, health care, and the pension system.”

According to UNDESA, and the International Education and Research Organisation, East-West Centre (EWC), birthrates in Europe and East Asia have fallen well below two children. In certain cases, it is just one child per woman on average.

Despite current population growth of 7.3 billion people, which is estimated to reach 11 billion by the end of the century, figures from the Population Division of UNDESA and the EWC studies show that 75 countries, or areas in the world, have below-replacement-level fertility in 2015, and the number will rise to 120 countries or areas by 2050.

By 2060, if low fertility rates continues in Korea, people aged 65 and above could account for 40 percent of the total population. This in turn could have severe implications on public social expenditures which could account for 29 percent of GDP by 2060, a research from UNDESA and EWC showed.

With the exception of Africa – which has the highest fertility rate in the world – Europe, North and South America, East Asia (including China) South Asia, and Oceania, will keep their birthrates low despite a slow population growth.
So how can countries deal with an ageing population?

There are multiple ways, Minja Kim Choe, Senior Fellow at EWC, told IPS.

In Norway and Sweden, for instance, the government formulated indirect fertility policies by improving gender equity at the work place and guaranteed supportive services for working mothers, explained Minja.

On the contrary, other countries, such as France, advocated direct fertility policies, with the goal of leading women to have more children, through family leaves or childcare assistance.

“In Sweden the government says ‘work!’, and in France it says ‘have children, and work’,” said Minja.

There is a wide range of effective responses that governments can come up with, said Wilmoth.

One way is for relatively rich countries to permit a certain flow of migrants – who are mostly young adults – in order to recruit the next generation.

This will be, not through birth but through immigrations—and in this way rejuvenating the overall population,” he added.


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