World's population ageing at its fastest rate ever, says UN

A baby born in 2021 can expect to live 71 years on average, almost 25 years more than a newborn from 1950

Wallace Johnson, Gordon Wilson, Joseph Eskenazi, Billy Hall and Tony DiLisa are all veterans of the Second World War and all are 97 or older. AP
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The world’s population of older people is growing at the fastest rate ever, the UN said on Thursday.

The number of people aged 65 and older had hit about 761 million as of 2021 and that figure is expected to more than double by 2050 to 1.6 billion, according to the UN’s “World Social Report 2023".

Eastern and South-Eastern Asia will account for more than 60 per cent of the global increase in the elderly.

Falling birth rates, greater access to education and increasing longevity are driving a largely irreversible trend towards older populations.

If countries and businesses plan right, an ageing population could create opportunities for economic growth, the report said.

“This report emphasises that countries have to be proactive to realise the potential demographic dividend of younger populations,” said Shantanu Mukherjee, a top analyst at the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

“Should they do so, then there can be lasting returns to the economy.

“Policies can be set in place in advance provided ageing is considered as central to the process of economic development.”

A baby born in 2021 could expect to live, on average, almost 25 years longer than a newborn from 1950, reaching 71 years of age, with women outliving men by an average of five years.

The report recommended that nations re-evaluate long-held policies associated with livelihoods and work.

It added that population ageing is progressing more rapidly in developing countries than it did historically in more developed countries.

Africa’s current youth bulge is expected to transform into progressively ageing populations over the next 30 years, which will have significant socio-economic effects for countries across the region.

North Africa, West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are expected to experience the fastest growth in the number of older people over the next three decades, while Europe and North America combined now have the highest share of older people.

The world is ageing fast, and we have only a couple of regions that are still very young one is Africa,” said Daniela Bas, director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development at the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

“So if we are smart enough to produce policies that are going to facilitate these countries in the future, in preparing the path for those youth of today who are going to be the middle-aged and older people of tomorrow, we will make sure that at least those continents will not suffer.”

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Japan, the country with the world’s oldest population as of 2021, will be surpassed by China and South Korea before 2050.

The report also found that people aged 80 and older are the fastest growing portion of the total population in many countries. This portion of the population is projected to increase by more than 200 per cent in the next three decades, except in Europe and North America, and Australia and New Zealand, where it is expected to grow by 10 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively.

However, the report warned that statistical averages hide broad disparities. In almost all societies, women live longer than men on average, and the rich live longer than the poor.

“If countries do not act to reduce inequalities throughout people's lives, then older people in the future are increasingly likely to suffer from high economic inequality,” Ms Bas said.

Updated: January 12, 2023, 8:53 PM