Isabella Aboderin is guest blogging for the Forum. She is a Senior Research Fellow and Co-coordinator, African Research on Ageing Network at the University of Oxford and a member of the Global Agenda Council on Ageing.

Isabella AboderinReflection on the nexus between population growth and population ageing trends and implications in different world regions brings into relief not only sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) distinct situation but also potential opportunities that flow from it.

Driven by persisting high fertility, SSA’s total population will grow much faster and age much more slowly (will quadruple but still not be mature by 2100) than those of industrialised or rapidly ageing developing societies. The contrast will be even starker if the projected continuous fertility decline in SSA doesn’t materialize (and there are signs that it might not).

Yet, the different demographic constellation and experiences of such societies hold a number of ‘lessons’ for SSA, which, if harnessed, could equip it to better address core challenges of population growth, ageing and development.  Beginning, most basically, with the importance of planning early for future demographic realities, four particular opportunities stand out to me:

  • First, SSA countries should be able to draw on policy or programmatic responses for older persons forged in more rapidly ageing resource poor countries, as possible models. This would require a systematic mechanism to ensure the evaluation of existing measures and effective South-South dialogue on them.
  • Second, the evidence that investments in the young pay off in older ages must be embraced by SSA.  An active adoption and application of a life course perspective to (re)frame the current focus on younger age-groups in mainstream MDG-centred development agendas would both (i) foster constructive engagement with the agenda to improve its long-term impact on older ages and (ii) provide a natural rationale and imperative – for donors and governments – to pursue measures aimed at middle-aged/older persons.
  • Third, SSA can actively engage with (and benefit from) the demography in mature societies by pursuing the ‘production’ and export of labour – as part of efforts to provide work for the large younger-age population and realise a potential demographic dividend.  A specific focus should be the supply of a long-term care workforce. Policy arrangements in sending and receiving countries can ensure that no care-drain ensues.
  • Fourth, and crucially, SSA countries must appreciate the importance of older persons as an economically productive population segment – beginning with a realisation that a majority or large proportion of older persons especially in rural areas are economically active. Governments must discard blanket ‘old age dependency’ thinking and consider, in particular, the preponderance of older persons in the farming population.  Investing in enhancing their productivity and enterprise is critical for revitalizing agricultural food production towards ensuring food security.