Ageing Population and Its Effects to the World
Ageing Population and Its Effects to the World
One of the greatest resources of a nation is its people. The collective abilities, skills, talents, and intelligence of a country’s citizenship can translate to the economic, social, political, and even religious or spiritual well-being and stability of that nation. During the era of agricultural revolution, human resource in terms of large nuclear families provide for the economic backbone of each family building a strong well-fed community and an economically sound society. As the Industrial Revolution gradually yet dramatically changed the landscape of communities and societies, more and more family opted to work in mills and factories leaving their farmlands. Over time, computers and robots limited the number of human labor in the work places which also began to set a willing limitation among couples to limit the number of children borne into each families. It was in this era when the advent of technologies has extended the mortality of the many people while the number of children borne into families are also limited leading to a problem in worker replacement and an aging population needing more help that the work or service they can do or render. For this purpose, this paper is written to discuss how the phenomenon of aging population affects the world and beyond.
How It All Began
The beginning of the demographic success story that was population aging can be traced to the rapid advances in medical technology, mass media, health awareness, healthcare providers, transportation and communication. The promotion of healthy lifestyle, exercises, work-life balance, pro-health fitness schemes, diet, coupled with the scientific and medical breakthroughs enabled higher changes of survival during birth and lower mortality rates. A 2015 United Nations (UN) report states that “advancements in public health and medical technologies, along with improvements in living conditions, mean that people are living longer and, in many cases, healthier lives than ever before, particularly at advanced ages” (p. 3). The report further discussed how the increase in longevity but decline in fertility has created a dramatic change in the population structure which can threaten the entire models, principles, forces, and foundations of any nation --- population ageing.
The ideology of economic growth reflected in the increase in per capita income mirrored in the gross national income (GNI), gross national product (GNP) and also manifested in the economic developments such as better government infrastructures and services provided to the people can be seen as something of a grand achievement (Borji, 2016). Babies rarely dies during deliveries and even babies with complicated conditions can be saved thanks to advancements in the medical field. Diseases which were considered plagues before such as small pox or measles which claim many infants are now curable. Similarly, highly debilitating or hard-to-cure ailments which easily take people’s lives are now also easily cured thus lengthening lives and increasing the chances of survival. In fact, it is even projected that with the pace of medical and technological advances, there will be a steady increase of 3.9 percent in population aging among developing nations in Asia and Africa while the Western worlds will surpass the average age of 80 years old by 2050 (www.un.org, p. 4)
The problem begins when there are less people in working ages in comparison to the number of older people or young people. Notice that the old and young populations do not usually perform significant contributions in production and service-providing. This gap with the workforce compared to the dependents is where the heart of the dilemma lies. When the aging population has expended their working years and would now require the services and products of the small number of working population, the imbalance can tip the economic balance of the system. Even at present conditions when couples decide to a single child over, this will eventually diminish the number of possible workers in the future which should render service to their parents later as they age.
The Theories behind Ageing Population
There are few theories which explain how the population aging occurs. The following theories are these: First is called biological theories. This is also called age-related deterioration. Senescence states that there is built in error in the animal cells specifically in cell-division which limit the production of healthy cells during mitosis and meiosis because the telomeres shorten over time due to constant cell replication. “Telomeres are protective structures present at the ends of linear chromosomes that are important in preventing genome instability. Telomeres shorten as a result of cellular replication, leading to a permanent cell cycle arrest, also known as replicative senescence. Senescent cells have been shown to accumulate in mammalian tissue with age and in a number of age-related diseases, suggesting that they might contribute to the loss of tissue function observed with age” (Victorelli & Passos, 2017). What this biological ageing states is that people will always age and eventually die no matter what they do since there is a biological code in their system which eventually cause their death. In fact, there are two groups in the biological theories which argue about how humans age: the programmed theory and the damage or error theory. The discussion on telomeres is a prime example of the programmed theory while the damage or error theory states that the amount of damages sustained by humans over time is the primary cause of ageing and eventual death because the human body through natural deterioration will not be able to combat the damages sustained over time. The Neuroscience theory by Ward dean and Prof. Vladimir Dilman also leans toward this argument but claims that it is the hypothalamus which sets the limitations to other internal parts of the body thus setting the systems to slowdown or shutdown leading to ageing. The Membrane theory and Mitochondrial theories also follow this line of reasoning. Other theories such as the Medawar concept states that reproductive ability declines over time thus leading to the phenomenon; this theory is widely supported by other theories which correlate survival with age, or resistance to environmental damages and age.
Other psychology-based theory group divert and focus more on relationships. The Disengagement theory states that as people age, relationships are usually severed and eventually alter the quality of life leading to ageing and death. This theory states that “in America there is evidence that society forces withdrawal on older people whether or not they want it” (Trindade, et.al., 2013). The Activity theory claims that the roles people perform within an organization or community can be play a significant part in the health condition of a person. This theory suggests that most people when they retire usually lose their self-concept leading to poor health conditions and even possible death if they cannot and do not maintain their roles whether in the family, community, and the society.
The Free Radical theory by Dr. Denham Harman claims that having many extra electrons in the body due to free radical molecules makes the human body unhealthy leading to sickness and possible death. Dr. Harman suggests that the best way to combat free radicals would be to limit exposure to free radical accelerators in the body through lifestyle check, prohibited drug prevention, non-exposure from radiation, and healthy lifestyle (Trindade, et. al., 2013).
Clearly all these theories present a single inevitable future, man will eventually age and die. If his medical and physiological conditions will not be compromised, his relationships and roles may make him feel less important thus limiting his desire to have a healthy lifestyle or diet making his cells weaker or his brain command his body from being healthy and resistant to environmental damages. In summary, all will have to deal with ageing and even death no matter how advance medical science and technology may have been in the West or in Europe.
The Drawbacks of the Phenomenon
“Population aging is largely seen as a threat to: sustainable economic growth due to the possible shrinkage of the labor force; and social security systems to support the elderly, such as pension plans, healthcare schemes and long-term care insurance” (Kudo, et. al., 2015, p. 941). A 2016 research paper conducted by David E. Bloom and Dara Lee Luca presented in Harvard University showed that “The phenomenon of population ageing, which is unprecedented in human history, brings with it sweeping changes in population needs and capacities, with potentially significant implications for employment, savings, consumption, economic growth, asset values, and fiscal balance” (p. 02). Notice that the work of Kudo et. al. provided more insights on the needs of the ageing population but the Harvard paper pointed out the extent of its effects in a grand scale which agrees that given the possibilities if left unchecked, it could really take a toll on sustainable economic growth. As the world population continues to grow, more and more developing societies and nations have become more concerned about the quality of life that the people began to self-regulate the fertility rate in hope of giving children a better future. However, as more and more societies push for these regulations such as the One-China Policy to curb population boom, there was no prior research conducted to prevent the incoming population ageing and its threats. Bloom and Luca’s projection states that the population will plateau which means that the older population and younger dependent groups of the population will have a fix rate of increase while the number of older members of the population will continue to increase. Magnifying the problem further, Bloom and Luca claim that severe chronic health problems will take a toll in governments, families, and individuals’ resources aggravating the already bloating problem by 2050 and 2100. In India and China alone, the rate of 5 – 7 percent of elderly in 1950 is expected to become 20 percent by 2050 and 34 to 40 percent by 2100. It is also noteworthy to know that China had a 67percent of 60+ year olds between 2000 to 2015, the total number of the elderly is expected to triple by 2100 (pp. 6 – 7). In Europe, the phenomenon began as far as the 1800s. Historical data shows that the 41-year-old mortality rate increased to 47 by 1820 which continued to drop as life expectancy increases over time such as 50 years old by 1900s eventually reaching 80 years old by 2006. Three main reasons were attributed to this increase in life expectancy: improvement of living standards, social policy measures such as efforts on public health especially in widespread vaccination programs and water sanitation, and education with emphasis on good health practices and acceptance of the germ theory (pp. 11 – 13).
Social Policies to Ease Population Aging Effects
The Chief Social Security Actuary (CSA) along with the US Congress proposed measures in order to address the dilemma caused by population ageing through social policies targeting social securities. Some of these policies are discussed below:
First, increase the Social Security entitlement age from 62 to 64. Considering that the life expectancy has risen to 80 years old, the age of productivity should also follow. While many senior citizens are clamoring for equal work opportunities, it should also mandate that the age of entitlement be adjusted thus the 64 years old be enough. Second, is the increase of the age of retirement from 67 to 70 years old. The same reason applies since many can still work even after the age of 67. Third, lessen certain benefits such as the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) by 0.2 percent by age 62 since they are still able to work and also as a general adjustment in relation to ages of entitlement and retirement. Fourth, reduce the primary insurance amount to 10 percent, again, as an across-the-board general reflection on policy changes based on age, performance, and productivity (www.nap.edu, 2015).
Similarly, the negative effects of ageing population can be negated by allowing immigration policies to be relaxed so that countries with enough human resources can offset the ever increasing percentage of the older local population may they be used for labor or as an opportunity to boost the population and balance the demands for younger productive generation to be assimilated into the national or domestic population and citizenship. In fact, such policy has already been used by countries such as Australia and Canada which require more workers to compensate for the domestic demands of labor and population ageing.
Another possible policy would be to remove fertility-limiting policies such as the One-China policy and replace it with programs designed to encourage new couples to have more children thus providing the necessary number of young members of the population which will serve the demands of the ageing population in the future. This scheme has already been used by many countries luring their own citizens to help boost the population growth which had plateaued from decades. Both schemes or policies have been used after World War II to dramatically increase the population thereby improving the workforce for future needs of the ageing people who served during the war (Bloom and Luca, 2016).
The ageing of the world population is clearly a social, economic, and political issue as all aspects of human life is and will be affected. The threats are knocking at governments doorsteps and there must be a concerted effort to address it and its effects. If the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a report this year outlining the conditions and challenges besetting the people of the world, then it is necessary that nations, their leaders, and people head the strategies to prevent further problems from ever occurring should the population of the world continues to plateau and the increase in the ageing population persists. Should the WHO suggestions of developing systems which provide long-term care, creating age-friendly environments, improving the understanding, monitoring, and measurements of ageing issues and possible solutions, and aligning healthcare systems with the older population’s needs fail, then a more drastic policy of relaxing border or immigration policies should be adapted as contingency measures as a form of a quick fix while promoting more fertility and higher birth rate to prevent the imbalance of ageing demand with the number of young ones working for the citizenry.
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