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World's aging population continues to grow older

March 30, 2016
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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An unprecedented number of people around the world are growing older—and living longer.

In 2015, 8.5 percent (617 million) of the world’s population was age 65 and older. That number is expected to grow to 17 percent (1.6 billion) by 2050, according to An Aging World: 2015.

"Older people are a rapidly growing proportion of the world’s population," says Richard J. Hodes, MD director of the National Institute on Aging, which commissioned the report, in a press release. "People are living longer, but that does not necessarily mean that they are living healthier. The increase in our aging population presents many opportunities and also several public health challenges that we need to prepare for."

An Aging World:2015 provides updated estimates on the older population as well as the demographic, health and economic aspects of aging. Unlike previous reports, the 2015 edition includes global estimates and the impact of the Great Recession on seniors’ economic well-being. This is the fifth report in the Census Bureau’s An Aging World series with the most recent report issued in 2008.

Some of the 2015 report highlights include:

  • Global population of the "oldest old," people aged 80 and older, is expected to more than triple between from 126.5 million in 2015 to 446.6 million in 2050.
  • America’s 65 and older population is expected to nearly double from 48 million in 2015 to 88 million by 2050.
  • Asia's 65 and older population is expected to more than double from under 8 percent in 2015 to 18.8 percent by 2050.
  • By 2050, less than one-fifth of the world’s older population will live in developed countries, with 62 percent living in Asia. In comparison, 6.6 percent will live in North America.
  • Global life expectancy at birth will grow almost eight years from 68.6 years in 2015 to 76.2 years in 2050.
  • Declining fertility rates have been the main cause for population aging. The total fertility rate is at or below the 2.1 replacement level in all regions except Africa, where the majority of countries have less than 5 percent of total population is age 65 or older.
  • By 2020, the number of young children and older people as a percentage of the global population will both be around 9 percent. After that, childhood rates will decline as senior rates will grow.
  • The main health concern among the worldwide aging population is chronic noncommunicable diseases, which often occur together and the multimorbidity increase with age. Between 1990 and 2010, dementia saw a 113 percent growth and diabetes saw a 79 percent growth in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).
  • Unpaid caregiving by family members and friends remains the main source of long-term care for older people worldwide. Informal care may substitute for formal long-term care in some European countries, especially when low levels of unskilled care are needed.
  • From 2005 to 2013, unemployment rates for Americans age 65 and older increased from 3.4 to 5.5 for men and 3.5 to 5.1 for women
  • Older people are working longer in many developed countries, but many more older people are working in low-income countries. 
  • More than 90 percent of the older population receives a pension in more developed countries such as Japan, Untied States, Australia and Italy. However, public pensions cover less than a third of the older population in China and a tenth of the older population in India. 

"We are seeing population aging in every country in every part of the world," says John Haaga, PhD, acting director of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research. "Many countries in Europe and Asia are further along in the process, or moving more rapidly, than we are in the United States. Since population aging affects so many aspects of public life—acute and long-term healthcare needs, pensions, work and retirement, transportation, housing—there is a lot of potential for learning from each other’s experience."