Population ageing, the process by which older individuals become a proportionally larger share of the total population, was one of the most distinctive demographic events of the twentieth century. It will surely remain important throughout the twenty-first century. Initially experienced by the more developed countries, the process has recently become apparent in muchof the developing world as well. For the near future, virtually all countries will face population ageing, although at varying levels of intensity and in different time frames.
As more people live longer, retirement, pensions and other social benefits tend to extend over longer periods of time. This makes it necessary for social security systems to change substantially in order to remaineffective (Creedy, 1998; Bravo, 1999). Increasing longevity can also result in rising medical costs and increasing demands for health services, since older people are typically more vulnerable to chronic diseases (de Jong-Gierveld and van Solinge, 1995; Holliday, 1999).
An important consequence of fertility decline is a progressive reduction in the availability of kin to whom future generations ofolder persons may turn for support. This process may have a significant impact on the well-being of older persons, especially in the less developed regions where social support for the older person is largely provided by the immediate family (Hoyert, 1991; Wolf, 1994). At the same time, improved chances of surviving to the oldest ages are likely to spur efforts to improve the health status of theolder population and lead to reforms in the pension and health systems.
As the impact of population ageing on the society’s socio-economic conditions may be amplified by the speed with which it occurs, it is important to consider not only the degree but also the pace of the changes in the age structure.
When the proportion of older persons in the total population increases dramatically in ashort period of time, as is currently occurring in some countries in both the more developed and the less developed regions, it becomes particularly difficult for the social and economic institutions to adjust.
An increasing proportion in the older ages necessarily affects the relative importance of the other segments. These changes in age composition can dramatically affect society’spolitical, economic and social structures. The shifting weights of the various age groups tend to create social and political pressures on a society to change its pattern of resource distribution, generating conditions that may give rise to intergenerational conflict (Walker, 1990; Jackson, 1998). In effect, demographic ageing may lead to calls for fewer schools but more long-term care facilities. Theageing index (the ratio of those 60 or older to those less than 15) provides a commonly used measure for assessing this process.
The rapid growth of the oldest groups among the older population is of special relevance in terms of public policy. In most parts of the world, the 80-and-over age group is growing faster than any other, and is expected to continue as the fastest growing segment of thepopulation for at least the next 50 years. Although this group still constitutes a small proportion of the total population, its numbers are becoming increasingly important, especially in the less developed regions. Increased age normally brings considerable change in individual needs. For instance, health conditions typically decline with advancing age, and this suggests an escalation in thedemand for long-term care (Pollard, 1995; Crimmins, 1997).
In most countries of the more developed regions, where social security coverage is nearly universal, declines in labour force participation at older ages primarily reflect changes in public policies regarding early retirement (Gruber and Wise, 1999). In many countries of the less developed regions, on the other hand, there are large...