Taboo #7 – Ageing – Part 1 – Demographics. Covid – 19 Edition
Ageing’s alright, better than the alternative, which is not being here, which is unfortunately the case for many who haven’t survived the Coronavirus pandemic.
Covid – 19 has been particularly deadly to the elderly and chronically ill. Unlike some previous pandemics and wars the young have been relatively spared but by their nature and situation being more mobile, sociable, in education/school etc. the young have likely had an impact on transmission especially as many contracted Covid – 19 and were asymptomatic and thus unaware of their potential to transmit to parents, grandparents etc. Hindsight is 20:20 vision and using the retrospectoscope we would likely have done things very differently or rather had things done to us differently by our governments. There is likely general agreement on this, however what is becoming clear in many countries is that not only was too little done too late but that lessons from the first wave were not learned for the second. 100,000s lives have been lost that might have otherwise been saved had different decisions be made, or rather if decisions rather than dithering had be the order of the day. Backtracking is not an option and unfortunately we are where we are. In the UK the Prime Minister has been reported as having said said “Covid was only killing 80-year-olds.” and that he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than have a third national lockdown. Combined with the appalling treatment of the elderly in care homes this doesn’t exactly bode well for those of us in our senior years. The cynic in me worries that if those in power couldn’t learn from one wave to the next over a period of months with fresh memories, what hope is there in several years time (That’s the optimist in me!) when the next pandemic comes along??
Despite pandemics etc. life expectancy in the western world has increased over the last two centuries driven mainly by improvements in sanitation, housing, and education, causing a steady decline in early and mid-life mortality mainly due to infections. Let’s get some historical perspective, Spanish flu was a global catastrophe. This was an airborne virus affecting every continent and in a two year period from the first case in March 1918 approximately one third of the world’s population, an estimated 500 million people were infected worldwide and between 50 and 100 million people died, that’s more than were killed in the First World War, likely more than the Second World War and possibly even more than the two wars combined. It is believed that more people died of influenza in the single year of 1918 than in the four years of the Black Death from 1347 to 1351.
Medicine has of course played a part with the introduction of antibiotics etc, but engineers rather than physicians have probably contributed more. If the pace of increase in life expectancy continues throughout the 21st century, most babies born since the millennium in those countries with the longest life expectancy will live to celebrate their 100th birthdays.
Today the elderly population, those aged 65 and over represent approximately 8.5 percent of people worldwide but is projected to double to nearly 17 percent by 2050. This is due to not just living longer but living healthier lives accompanied by a concurrent postponement of functional limitations and disability. So not only are our elders living longer healthier lives but their functioning in society is also improved.
The elderly dependency rate is defined as the ratio between the elderly population and the working age (15-64 years) population. In 1980, there were only 20 people aged 65 and over for every 100 of working-age, on average across the OECD; by 2015 this number had risen to 28 and by 2050 is projected to almost double to reach 53. Many OECD and emerging economies are ageing much faster. At the same time, inequalities have been increasing from one generation to the next. Among people starting their working life it is now already much higher than among today’s elderly. Population ageing is poised to become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society, including labour and financial markets, the demand for goods and services, such as housing, transportation and social protection, as well as family structures and inter-generational ties. Younger generations will face greater risks of inequality in old age than current retirees and for generations born since the 1960s, their experience of old age will change dramatically. Moreover, with family sizes falling, higher inequality over working lives and reforms that have cut pension incomes, some groups will face a high risk of poverty, according to the OECD. 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 its value in 2017.
The ageing of Japan outweighs that of all other nations, with the highest elderly population. Japan is experiencing a “super-ageing” society both in rural and urban areas. In 2014 this elderly population made up a quarter of its total population and this is estimated to reach a third by 2050. This despite an overall shrinking of the total population. The government has thus had to respond to the stress that these demographic changes place on the economy and social services with policies intended to restore the fertility rate and make the elderly more active in society.
Many countries have introduced reforms to help them adapt their economies, especially pension policies to increase the age of retirement. Measures already legislated for in OECD countries imply an average increase in the normal retirement age of 1.5 years by 2050. But this rise in the statutory retirement age is estimated to fall well short of what is needed. The inevitable conclusion is that, if employment rates do not increase substantially, there will be strong pressure on retirement income in future. Enhancing employment, especially at older ages as well as productivity will thus be critical if we want to preserve the level of pensions for future elderly populations.
So we may have to get used to the idea of paying more into our pensions, work and continue to pay contributions for longer and probably receive less when we do retire. Many will be lucky enough to have index linked pensions from the old world and will be partially protected. Others will find that living longer comes at a price and the repercussions will affect our standard of living, health care and social care costs. Leaving something for the next generation may well become a thing of the past and rather than having a leg up from the bank of mum and dad our children will have to work harder and longer to support themselves for their 100 year life! You might like to look at ‘Taboo #12 Inheritance‘ and ‘Taboo #3 Money‘ too!
Q. How will we and future generations manage to deal with our longevity?
Q. What do we and Government need to do NOW so that our elders can be supported in old age?
Q. Pensions – What do we need to do and what do we need to know?
Let me know your feelings, ideas and comments!