Should Latin America’s aging population be a cause for concern?

Researchers are concerned that the trend toward an aging population in Latin America is happening far more rapidly than it did over the last century in the U.S. and Europe. (Photo:Shutterstock)

Researchers are concerned that the trend toward an aging population in Latin America is happening far more rapidly than it did over the last century in the U.S. and Europe. (Photo:Shutterstock)

By Danielle Restuccia | VOXXI

FEATURE TO INSIDE COSTA RICA

January 31, 2014 (VOXXI) – A new Pew Research Center report, discussing global attitudes toward aging, suggested that Latin Americans aren’t particularly concerned about an increasing elderly population. Unfortunately, other demographic research indicates that they probably should be.

Concerns about aging are most prevalent in Europe and East Asia. Many residents are concerned about how the country will deal with the booming elderly population, and a large number of Asian respondents expressed concern over whether they would be able to maintain their standard of living in old age.

In contrast, residents of both North and South America were less concerned about growing old.

However, while it’s true that Europe and Asia will have a larger aging population in the coming decades than will the Americas, Latin American demographics are also shifting toward an older set.

Researchers are concerned that the trend toward an older population, coupled with a lower fertility rate for young women, is happening far more rapidly than it did over the last century in the U.S. and Europe.

Aging Around the World

First, the facts: Asia and Europe are on the brink of populations with many more elderly than in the rest of the world, on average.

The report from the Pew Research Center showed that based on projections, Japan, South Korea and Spain would soon have the largest elderly populations.

Estimates put Japan’s aged population -defined as individuals 65 years or older- at 36 percent of the total population by 2050. Currently, the elderly make up 23 percent of Japan’s residents.

New study shows that Japan, South Korea and Spain would soon have the largest elderly populations. (Photo:Shutterstock)

In contrast, Brazil should see its 65-and-over set grow to 22.5 percent of the population by 2050, while Mexico is projected to see 20.2 of its population at retirement age.

The difference is in how quickly those populations are growing: while European and Asian countries may see a relatively large increase- generally somewhere between 50 and 100 percent of their current elderly population- Latin American countries are likely to experience increases of well over 100 percent.

Though Mexico’s 20.2 percent, cited above, doesn’t seem huge, consider the fact that the elderly currently only make up six percent of the population. By 2050, that will have increased by over 300 percent.

Demographic Change in Latin America

Part of the reason that Latin Americans may not be as concerned about an aging population as their Asian or European counterparts is because population growth has happened more quickly in Central and South America than it has overseas.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that as fertility in Latin America has fallen over the past few decades, life expectancy has “soared.”

In fact, it took just fifty years for birth rates in Latin America and the Caribbean to fall from an average of 6.0 to 2.2, according to the Economist.

In Chile and Brazil, birth rates are now lower than in the United States.

That rapidly declining growth rate means that the median age is rising quickly, whereas in Europe and Asia, the transition from a young to old population happened much more gradually.

It may be that attitudes and awareness haven’t quite caught up with the burgeoning population shift.

Effects

Because of this quick demographic change, Latin America faces potential challenges in the next four decades.

A recent Pew Research Center study shows the concerns Latin America has regarding the aging population in the region.

Latin America faces potential challenges in the next four decades, due to quick demographic changes. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Two of the biggest are establishing effective retirement systems for aging workers and increasing living standards among the young, which would in turn help support the increasing cost of an elderly population.

Retirement coverage varies widely across Latin America, with many workers failing to save anywhere near enough money to keep them stable in old age. Much of the issue is the informal labor market: because a large sector of the working population is not formally employed, many workers don’t contribute to a pension system, either public or private.

The good news is that Latin American countries have time to address the concern of an increasing elderly population.

Though there is undoubtedly a boom coming in the aging population, projections are looking four decades into the future.

Given the incredible shift the region has seen over the last four decades, anything is possible, and we can certainly hope that Latin American leaders will take note of the demographic trends in time to ready their populations for changing needs.

Originally published by VOXXI as “Can an aging population in Latin America be a cause for concern?”
http://voxxi.com/2014/01/31/aging-latin-america/
and is republished here with permission.

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