Over the last 50 years, the populations of most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have been aging steadily and if this trends goes, one in five people in the western hemisphere will be over 65 years of age, said an analysis by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
In the analysis “Addressing an Aging Population through Digital Transformation in the Western Hemisphere”, the CSIS said that only four per cent of the western hemisphere was over 65 years of age about 50 years ago. Now this has doubled, growing more rapidly than Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. In the next decade, almost 12 percent of the population will be over the age of 65, and one in five people in the Western Hemisphere will be over 65 by 2050, the report said.
The CSIS attributes an increase in life expectancy coupled with a decline in birth rates towards ageing population in this region. Aging is the sign of a healthy society, but countries must support healthy and dignified lives for older people, strengthen care infrastructure, and prepare the workforce for this demographic shift, they said.
The analysis also found that life expectancy in the region was higher. Fifty years ago, the life expectancy in the region was about 60, with Haiti and Bolivia in just the mid-forties. The present life expectancy is close to 75 years and is projected to hit 80 in the next 20 years, the CSIS said.
Cuba is the oldest country in the region, with a life expectancy slightly higher than that of the United States. By 2040, Cuba is projected to have a proportion of the population over 65 surpassing the current proportion in Japan, and almost one in three Cubans will be over 65.
The analysis notes that Haiti is the youngest country in the region. Unlike other countries, the proportion of the population over the age of 65 has fluctuated in the last 50 years and is not consistently increasing. Only one in ten Haitians are projected to be over the age of 65 by 2050.
Fertility rate in the region was higher than the global average 50 years ago. However, this has come down now. A fertility rate of around 2.1 children per woman of childbearing age is considered the “replacement level,” meaning that a population replaces itself each generation (not including other factors such as migration). Since 2015, the region has been below replacement levels. Combined with a growing older population, a decline in the number of young people means that there are fewer people who will participate in the workforce, deposit into pension and other social insurance systems, and care for those older people, the authors maintained.
In 1970, Honduras had the highest fertility rate in the region, but it will be below replacement levels in the next 10 years. Barbados has already had a fertility rate below replacement levels for the past several decades (since 1980). Bolivia’s birthrate is the second highest in the region and will not be below replacement levels until 2050.
- It is hard time that Countries begin preparing now for an aging population.
- Prioritize strengthening healthcare and aging care infrastructure to better support an older population.
- Increased care for chronic illnesses, including specialized doctors and treatments, along with long-term care either from family members or professionals.
- Increase spending on healthcare. Now only at 1 percentof gross domestic product (GDP), lower than in other aging regions such as Europe and Africa, and significantly lower than Japan, which has the world’s oldest population and spends 11 percent of its GDP on healthcare.
- Prioritize providing a high quality of life for older adults, which will mean creating a society that older adults can easily navigate. This includes increasing livability and accessibility in both urban and rural contexts, providing safe and convenient transportation, and prioritizing social and civic engagement.
- Countries will also need to modernize and reform their pension systems to be prepared for a greater demand for government support for the older population,
- creating smart cities, expanding accessible public transportation, and facilitating continuing education for older adults.
- Digital initiatives such as telemedicine and data-driven healthcare can help healthcare workers better care for patients with chronic illness, which is more common in old age.
- Digital solutions such as wearable robotic devices and apps that track symptoms and doctor’s appointments can help caregivers better support older adults.
- Encourage the silver economy.
The authors of the analysis are Daniel F. Runde (senior vice president, director of the Project on Prosperity and Development, and holds the William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Analysis at CSIS), Linnea Sandin (consultant and the former associate director and associate fellow with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies) and Arianna Kohan (program coordinator with the Americas Program at the CSIS).