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With life expectancy increasing, here’s how 4 countries are addressing their ageing populations

The United Nations says our ageing populations must be addressed if the world is to meet its Sustainable Development Goals.

The United Nations says our ageing populations must be addressed if the world is to meet its Sustainable Development Goals. Image: Unsplash/mbennettphoto

Madeleine North
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • With the number of over-65s set to more than double by 2050, the world needs to adjust to a new demographic era, according to a World Economic Forum report.
  • The United Nations says our ageing populations must be addressed if the world is to meet its Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Countries are implementing policies to encourage more births and adjust to ageing societies.

Japan is often name-checked in headlines about ageing populations, but it’s the tiny city-state of Monaco that trumps all other countries in the longevity stakes, with over a third of its roughly 39,000 inhabitants older than 65.

But these two nations are not outliers. Globally, life expectancy continues to increase, with the United Nations (UN) predicting the number of over-65s to more than double by 2050. This presents a problem for individuals, businesses and governments because most societies are simply not set up to adequately support longevity. As the World Economic Forum’s Living Longer, Better: Understanding Longevity Literacy report states, the world has entered “a new demographic era in which the three-stage life of school, work and retirement is giving way to a multistage life”.

Figure illustrating the estimated share of population aged 65+ in 2021 by country.
Almost one-tenth of the world population is estimated to be over 65 years of age. Image: Statista

So what can be done? The UN advises on policy measures that can be taken to address the issue, as an ageing population is closely tied up with several of its Sustainable Development Goals, while the International Monetary Fund sees technological innovations as one potential solution.

In the meantime, here’s what four countries are doing to adjust to this demographic transformation.

South Korea: Tackling a future ageing population

While South Korea does not currently have an ageing population, it may be heading that way. The country’s fertility rate is the lowest in the world, with the UN warning in 2021 that South Korea was on track to halve its population by 2100.

In a bid to turn things around, the government last year announced a policy to provide a monthly stipend of $740 to all families with a newborn child. Now the government’s planning to add lower mortgage rates to the offer, as “soaring home prices are often cited among reasons for those who are reluctant to have kids”, reports Bloomberg.

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China: The era of negative population growth

The legacy of China’s one-child policy (in place between 1980 and 2015) was laid bare in 2022 when the country’s population fell by around 850,000, its first drop since 1961 and the start of what the National People’s Congress called “the era of negative population growth”. Like South Korea, China is battling to “stave off the looming demographic crisis caused by an ageing population”, according to The Guardian.

And the country is doing so with a variety of measures. Since 2021, China’s local governments have introduced incentives such as tax breaks and extended maternity leave to encourage parents to have more children; cash payments for second or third children have been offered in some cities; while Beijing banned tutoring companies from making a profit under certain circumstances, as high education costs are putting many parents off growing their family.

Despite these efforts, “resistance remains among couples”, says The Guardian.

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Japan: Low birth rates, long life

With the world’s second-largest ageing population, Japan is also contending with a low birth rate, leading the country’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to announce in January 2023 that “Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society”. For the first time since records began, the birth rate fell below 800,000 in 2022, and in an address to parliament, Kishida said that child-rearing policies required urgent attention. A new government agency was proposed, while spending on child-related programmes is set to double, reports the BBC.

It’s not the first time measures have been put in place to support an ageing society and encourage more births, however. In 2018, the Guideline of Measures for Ageing Society was introduced to challenge the belief that over-65 means “old”, and to acknowledge that many older people are both physically able and psychologically motivated to continue contributing to society. While, back in 2008, people were being actively encouraged to leave work early in order to go home and procreate.

Italy: A pact for senior citizens

Close to a quarter of Italy’s population is aged over 65, Statista data shows, ranking it fourth among the world’s most ageing societies. “The demographic crisis is one of the most pressing matters of our time,” said Ilaria Antonini, Head of the Department for Family Policies in a 2022 report, Active Ageing Policies in Italy. She added: “The declining birth rate is mirrored in the soaring ageing of the population”.

As of 2022, 10 Italian regions have a law dedicated to what the World Health Organization terms “active ageing” – namely, ensuring that as people age, there are “opportunities for health, participation and security, in order to enhance quality of life”.

More recently, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni signed a “Pact for senior citizens”, a draft law “preventing elderly people from being ‘parked’ in healthcare facilities” and focusing on social and healthcare packages, new forms of housing, as well as palliative care.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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