Developed countries with a greater share of older people and developing countries with more young people will experience the “irreversible global trend” of population aging, according to a report from the organization. The number of people over 65 years old is expected to more than double over the next three decades, from around 760 million to over 1.6 billion, while the number of people over 80 years old is increasing at an even faster rate.
“This pattern began on a global scale around the middle of the twentieth century and is expected to intensify in the decades ahead,” the analysis explained. “Most of the more developed countries have experienced population ageing over several decades and are already in advanced stages of this process. By contrast, many developing countries face rapid transitions towards ageing societies.”
While nations in Europe and North America currently have the highest number of older people, nations in Africa and Western Asia are “expected to experience the fastest growth in the number of older people” over the next three decades. Dependency ratios, which chart the number of older people and children relative to the working-age populations upon which they depend, are projected to increase over the same horizon.
The UN therefore called upon governments to increase retirement ages and expand pension coverage while making investments in healthcare and education that permit older people to be more self-reliant and economically productive.
“Based on current global trends, future cohorts of working-age and older persons are likely to be healthier and better educated, and therefore more productive, compared to earlier cohorts,” the report continued. “Eliminating age-related discrimination and barriers to formal employment are other critical measures for older persons to make continued contributions.”
Several developed nations are facing overburdened pension systems as more individuals enter retirement age. Medicare Hospital Insurance in the United States is projected to be insolvent by 2028, while Social Security’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund will deplete reserves by 2034, according to an analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The UN forecasts that the human race will have 8.5 billion people by 2030 and 9.7 billion people by 2050 even as worldwide fertility rates reach their lowest levels since 1950. India will soon surpass China as the world’s most populous nation; the former maintains a fertility rate of 2.2 children per woman, while the latter has a fertility rate of 1.7 children per woman, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Some commentators have rejected the conventional wisdom that the global population is expanding at an unsustainable rate. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called low birth rates “one of the biggest risks to civilization” and encouraged people to build families.
“So many people, including smart people, think that there are too many people in the world and think that the population is growing out of control,” he said. “It’s completely the opposite. Please look at the numbers. If people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble.”