Nepal | April 04, 2020

Measuring population ageing: From evidence to action

Jhabindra Bhandari

Largely, the older persons are at risk of being left behind from development gains. In most of the developing countries, the goal of universal social protection is unfortunately far from being achieved

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Population ageing is occurring throughout the world. According to the United Nations Population Fund, people aged 60 and older make up 12.3 per cent of the global population, and by 2050, that number will rise to almost 22 per cent.

Interestingly, about two-thirds of the world’s older persons live in the developing regions, where their numbers are growing faster than in the developed world. In 2050, it is estimated that nearly 8 in 10 of the world’s older persons will be living in the developing countries.

Largely, the older persons are at risk of being left behind from development gains. In most of the developing countries, the goal of universal social protection is unfortunately far from being achieved. In this context, accurate, timely demographic data, disaggregated by age, sex and other relevant characteristics are instrumental in responding to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population.

Therefore, there is urgent need of robust analysis to generate new evidences on the patterns and trends of population ageing. This would be very helpful in ensuring that ageing issues are integrated into the national development policies and poverty reduction strategies.

While population ageing is largely driven by reductions in fertility and improvements in longevity, it is an inevitable result of the demographic transition. Some countries still face large immigration flows, and hence the international migration can temporarily slow the ageing process as the migrants tend to be concentrated in the working age group.

While fertility has been the most influential factor in shaping the trends in the number and proportion of older persons over the long term, improvements in the survival to an older age have significantly contributed to population ageing.

Like many other developing countries, Nepal has also been experiencing very rapid demographic changes in the last few decades due to transition from a high-mortality, high-fertility society to a low-mortality, low-fertility society within a relatively short span of time. Several studies show that the size and age structure of the population can have profound impacts on socio-economic development.

In general, people are living longer because of better nutrition, sanitation, healthcare, education and economic well-being. Despite the challenges, more efforts are needed to mainstream population ageing into the development policies and plans in the developing world.

Measuring population ageing has been a matter of concern in the recent years. Traditionally, we have used measures and indicators that are mostly based on people’s chronological ages. This approach generally provides a simple, clear and easily replicable way to compute various indicators of ageing. When the population ages, the old-age population ratio gradually increases.

In this context, a new approach to thinking about people’s age has been developed. This approach is multi-dimensional and recognises that the health status, type and level of activity, productivity and other socio-economic characteristics of the people have profoundly changed. It is particularly important to note that older persons often experience barriers in accessing health-care services.

Some approaches of measuring population ageing have led to the development of alternative concepts and measures of ageing. These provide a different picture of the past, present and expected future dynamics of population ageing. Moreover, there are important implications for the design and implementation of national development policies and strategies that are related to or are affected by population ageing.

Recognising the diverse stages and characteristics of ageing in various regions of the world, as well as the recent developments and innovations in its measurement, an international expert group meeting on measuring population ageing was recently organised in Bangkok, Thailand.

The expert meeting was instrumental in taking stock of different concepts and methodologies to assess their scope and limitations to support policy design, implementation and monitoring at the national, regional and global levels, including monitoring and review of ageing-related Sustainable Development Goals.

It also provided a platform of experts to share country-specific practices and experiences on applicability of various measures of ageing in different contexts.

More importantly, there are policy implications of population ageing in developing countries. Improved access to healthcare in both urban and rural areas is important to meet the needs of an ageing population. Much more is needed to enhance the capacity of the governments, civil society and private sectors to ensure healthy ageing and well-being at all ages.

In countries where population ageing is a matter of concern, there are emerging needs to provide public services specifically targeted at older persons. These mainly include housing, employment, healthcare, infrastructure and social protection. Undoubtedly, strong political will and commitment are the key to ensuring effective implementation of the existing national policies and plans in order to achieve the goals and targets laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Bhandari is a PhD candidate at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand


A version of this article appears in print on March 15, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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