Can we cope with aging?
Tuesday was a special day around the world, and if trends continue, Oct. 1 could probably rival Valentine’s or Mothers Day in global importance: International Day of Older Persons.
Of course, they’ll have to change the title before Hallmark issues a line of greeting cards, but that’s just a marketing problem.
Canada is still one of the youngest countries in the Group of Eight developed nations, second only to the U.S. But in all of North and South America, Canada is the “senior” member. We have the highest proportion of people over 65 in our hemisphere.
We’ve known this for a few years now.
Since 2009, we’ve been warned that sometime between 2015 and 2020, a major demographic shift will occur. Canada will have more people 65 years and over than who are 14 years and younger.
By 2030, when the last of the baby boomers hit 65, Canada’s demographics will resemble that of Japan today.
Taking Statistics Canada’s medium view of population growth projections, Canada will have close to 10 million seniors in a total population of around 40 million, before a child born this year can graduate high school.
That’s roughly 100 per cent growth in the senior demographic since 2009, when these warnings were first made.
That’s not much time, in the course of the life of a nation. Not much time for people to plan for a radically different type of Canada than the one we’re used to.
Canada will weather this change better than most, though.
On Tuesday, the United Nations World Population Fund made its global demographic study public. It ranked 91 countries on the basis of well-being of seniors.
Sweden, where public pensions have been common for a century, and health care is mostly government-funded, came out on top, followed by Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada.
Afghanistan was ranked last.
Not surprising once you think about it, but developing countries are seeing a seniors boom, the result of improved economics, education and health care. Of the 15 countries around the world with 10 million or more seniors, seven are in this group of nations.
But living longer doesn’t necessarily mean living better, or that all changes are for the good.
Globally, about half of all children under 14 live in poverty, as measured by a family needing to spend a high portion of total income on survival. No room for savings, little capacity to handle emergencies. Less capacity to care for more seniors.
But by those same measures, we are told that three-quarters of the world’s seniors will live in “poor” countries by 2040.
That’s something humanity has never seen before — perhaps because we’ve never measured it before.
“Unless you measure something, it doesn’t really exist in the minds of decision-makers,” said John Beard, director of Aging and Life Course for the World Health Organization.
“One of the challenges for population aging is that we don’t even collect the data, let alone start to analyze it. ... For example, we’ve been talking about how people are living longer, but I can’t tell you people are living longer and sicker, or longer in good health.”
But decision-makers are going to have to make some decisions, real soon. The world’s population over age 65 is growing at better than 870,000 a month. With declining fertility, the rising chart line of seniors will cross the line of children under 14 sometime in the current generation.
We have no idea in Canada what things will look like when millions of people live more than 20 years in “retirement age,” with health and fitness declining a bit more every year.
Couple that with an unemployment rate of people under 25 double the national average — unable to contribute to the national pension plan.
Humanity has never seen this before.
Who’s going to buy the Happy International Day of Older Persons cards?
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.