The Population and Older Persons: Understanding the Need for a Healthy Life Expectancy in Asia and the World
Speech of Ms. Rena Dona, Asst. Country Rep., UNFPA
More than 20 years, in 1982, the United Nations (UN) adopted the International Plan of Action on Ageing at the First World Assembly on Ageing.
The Plan recognized that population ageing has profound impact on all facets of human life.
From an economic perspective, it affect economic growth, savings, investment and consumption, labor markets, pensions, taxation and intergenerational transfers.
From a sociological viewpoint, population ageing affects health and health care, family composition and living arrangement, housing and migration. Politically, it can influence voting patterns and representation.
The trend towards older populations is largely irreversible, with the young population of the past unlikely to occur again. The proportion of older persons is projected to reach 21 percent by 2050. By 2050, the number of older persons in the world will exceed the number of young for the first time in history. In fact, in 1998, this historic reversal in relative proportions of young and old had already taken place in the more developed regions.
Marked differences exist between geographic regions in the number and proportion of older persons. In the more developed regions, almost one fifth of the population was aged 60 or older in the year 2000; by 2050, this proportion is expected to reach one third. In the less developed regions, only 8 percent of the population is currently over the age of 60. However by 2050, older persons will make up nearly 20 percent of the population.
In the Philippines, the average life expectancy of Filipinos is 70. For men, it is 68, and for women, it is 72. However, in this country, the population is still relatively young. The issues related to population ageing, though recognized as pervasive, are not immediately felt as that in the case of developed nations. One fifth (1/5) of its current 88.6 million inhabitants comprise the youth, already of child-bearing age, 15-24 years. The 2005 Family Planning Survey showed that seven (7) percent of teenage women, 15 to 19, have in fact, already begun childbearing. Adolescent pregnancy is generally higher for women with less education, women living in rural areas, and women classified as poor. The pressing issues of population management, a nationally recognized Reproductive Health Program, including a more comprehensive program for Adolescent Reproductive Health, still weigh heavily as more immediate concerns.
What may be of much concern is that the pace of population ageing is much faster in developing countries like the Philippines than in developed countries. And thus, developing countries will have less time to adjust to the consequences of population ageing. Moreover, population ageing in the developing countries is taking place at much lower levels of socioeconomic development than was the case in developed countries.
Knowing that the health of older persons is typically deteriorates with increasing age, and that long-term care will be paramount, it is still wise to consider the issues of population ageing as early as now.
The parent support ratio—the ratio of the population 85 or older to those aged 50 to 64, to provide an indication of the support families may need to provide to their oldest members. Although cultural aspects of support for senior citizens are already inherent in Philippine culture and even through policies in place, further institutionalizing this support to a wider application and reach is still an avenue that needs to be further explored. The Expanded Senior Citizen’s Act of 2003, as authored by then Sen. Noli De Castro has been of help but future demands for a more comprehensive manner to address population ageing and its consequences on economy and health is expected to happen.
Quality of life also means quality of health. Care for the aged should extend to programs involving health, finance, living conditions, and such services must be able to reach even the poorest of the poor. Older persons participate to a greater extent in labor markets in the less developed regions, largely owing to the limited coverage of retirement schemes and the relatively small incomes when provided. Thus, there is indeed a need for a more effective and fair schemes and plans for ‘comfortable’ retirement have to be further thought of.
Even if Juan Ponce de Leon may not have found the proverbial Fountain of Youth and perhaps, no one will be successful and become a legend, like Will Smith, in that popular movie, our present attitudes towards life in general may take cue from the thought—that caring for and acknowledging those who have been here before us, will always be an effervescent and youthful effort, the act of which will always make everyone, at the very least, feel young. Thank you and have a pleasant day, everyone.