The Bigger Picture

The U.S. Census Bureau has published a comprehensive report, ‘’Ageing World : 2008’ *which suggests that within 10 years older people will outnumber children for the first time. It forecasts that over the next 30 years the number of over-65’s is expected to almost double from 506M in 2001 to 1.3B.

They have come up with some astonishing statistics, such as the number of people over 65 throughout the world is increasing on an average of by 870,000 a month. The oldest old people aged 80 and older, are the fastest growing portion of the total population in many countries. Europe is the ‘greyest’ continent, with 23 of the world’s oldest countries. By 2040 more than one in four Europeans are expected to be at least 65 and one in seven at least 75.

While developed nations have relatively high proportions of people aged 65 and older, the most rapid increases in the older population are in the developing world where the older population is more than double than that in developed countries, and is also double that of the total world population.

In 2008, 62 percent (313 million) of the world’s people aged 65 and older lived in developing countries. The 65-and-older population in China and India alone numbered 166 million in 2008, nearly one-third of the world’s total. By 2040, today’s developing countries are likely to be home to more than 1 billion people aged 65 and over, 76 percent of the projected world total. And this in countries that often have much earlier deaths because of malnutrition and poverty. In Zimbabwe for example life expectation has fallen to 40.

All this raises enormous issues of governance, social care, family life, national wellbeing, justice for rich and especially for the poor, the use of the earth’s resources. But I tend to be sceptical about such figures as these, although they are the result of research from what is an apparently highly regarded source.

They are in the end only projections and whilst deserving recognition by governments and world bodies, they are more important as guidance than they are as fuel for apocalyptic prophesies of doom.

Writing in the inestimable Guardian yesterday, Zoe Williams says that the spectra of decades of disability at the end of life is not borne out by the figures. For her our ageing world is ‘brilliant news. This is what we have been working towards…maybe there is just no pleasing a statistician’.

Having acknowledged the global picture, euroresidentes’ blogs on Ageing will no doubt soon return to the more personal ones!


*The full report is available from