Faced with an aging world, members of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) are making headways in creating a health environment for older people.
"Population aging is one of the single most important phenomena of our time, bringing wide-ranging challenges and opportunities," the group founded in 1947 said in a statement in time for the World Population Day last July 11.
In a new report released last June 21, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs said that despite rising global population, it noted lower fertility rates in most countries, making a grey world almost inevitable.
The international body said that from 2017, the number of persons aged 60 or above is expected to more than double by 2050 and to more than triple by 2100, rising from 962 million globally in 2017 to 2.1 billion in 2050 and 3.1 billion in 2100.
In Europe, a quarter of its population is already aged 60 years and over. The proportion is projected to reach 35% in 2050 and to remain as such through the second half of the century.
Earlier this month, the UNECE held its 4th Gender and Generations Program User Conference in Berlin, discussing studies that somehow touched on the issue of older people.
One study, for example, explored the impact of the availability of grandparents as care providers on mothers’ fertility intentions and realizations, highlighting the important role played by family support networks in compensating for weak public childcare systems.
Authored by Valeria Bordone and Bruno Arpino, the study found "a strong link between fertility intentions and behaviors." It likewise noted a positive effect of grandparental childcare on mothers' decision to work.
For September this year, the UNECE Working Group on Ageing has set a ministerial conference called "A Sustainable Society for All Ages: Realizing the potential of living longer" in in Lisbon, Portugal.
Ministerial and expert panels from European and international organizations and the scientific community will tackle topics like recognizing the potential of older persons, longer working life, and non-discrimination and social inclusion of older persons in the society.
"We expect to have a positive outcome of the Lisbon Ministerial Conference feeding into the global review of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing in 2018," said Portugal's Minister of Labour, Solidarity, and Social Security, José António Viera da Silva.
World population now stands at 7.6 billion, and the UN report projects this to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100.
With roughly 83 million more people added to the world's population each year, the UN expects such upward trend in population size to go on even if fertility levels continue to decline.
In recent years, fertility has declined in nearly all regions of the world, the UN report said. Even in Africa, where fertility levels are the highest, this aspect fell from 5.1 births per women in 2000-200s to 4.7 in 2010-2015.
Curiously, Europe has had increasing fertility rate from 1.4 births per woman in 2000-2005 to 1.6 in 2010-2015.
The UN noted that "more and more countries now have fertility rates below the level required for the replacement of successive generations. in 2010-2015, fertility was below the replacement level in 83 countries, comprising 46% of the world's population.
At the same time, populations in some regions are projected to age significantly over the next several decades through 2100. Africa, for example, which has the youngest age distribution, is expected to see its population aging rapidly. Although the African
population will remain relatively young for several more decades, the percentage of its population aged 60 or over, the UN report said. is expected to rise from 5% in 2017 to around 9% in 2050, and then to nearly 20% by the end of the century.
Globally, the number of persons aged 80 or over is projected to triple by 2050, from 137 million in 2017 to 425 million in 2050. By 2100, it is expected to increase to 909 million, nearly seven times from 2017.
The UN report also points out substantial improvements in life expectancy worldwide in the past years. Globally, life expectancy has risen from 65 years for mean and 69 years for women in 2000-2005 to 69 years for men and 73 years for women in 2010-2015.
The higher life expectancy has been due to many factors, the international body said. These include lowering under-five mortality rate, which fell by more than 30% in 89 countries from the period 2000-2005 to 2010-2015, continued decrease in death due to HIV/AIDS, and progress in combating other infectious and non-communicable diseases.
The UN said population aging is expected to have "a profound effect on societies, underscoring the fiscal and political pressures that the health care, old-age pension, and social protection systems of many countries are likely to face in the coming decades."