World faces slow process of adapting to aging population: UN official

08:04, July 12, 2010      

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The world will have to go through a long process of adapting to both economic and societal changes arising from an aging population, a senior UN official has said.

Hania Zlotnik, director of the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), made the remarks in an interview with Xinhua on the occasion of World Population Day, which is annually observed on July 11.

According to a UN report, by 2050, more than one in five of the 9 billion people on Earth will be over the age of 60. In China, the number of people over the age of 60 will be 400 million, which means one in every four Chinese will be over 60.

"One of the dynamics that is very common today is the aging of most of the populations of the world," Zlotnik said. "It is the declining fertility that causes a population to age."

It takes some time for the process of fertility decline to contribute to an aging population, but it eventually gets there. For example, some European countries have their fertility declines very early in the 20th century, but now they are getting to proportions of older people accounting for 15 or 20 percent.

In Europe, it used to be very easy for the economy to provide for early retirement for their people because there were lots of workers per elderly person.

But now, aging issues are beginning to take their toll. "At this moment, already we're seeing in Europe, great debates about increasing the age of retirement, maintaining people active in the labor force for longer," she said.

"This should be possible because not only are there more people at advanced ages, but they get there being very healthy, and being quite capable of continuing work. So the extension of life has gone together with extension of the healthy life," she said.

The developing world is expected to be at the stage Europe is today in about 2050. And when that day comes, they will be expected to also increase their age at retirement, she said.

"People will live longer and want to be active and hopefully it 's going to be for good reasons, and not only because economically -- they can not make ends meet, and they also have to work," said the director.

Population aging also brings about societal adjustments. Fertility declines often go together with longer periods of education for both men and women, especially for women, she said.

As more women join the labor force, couples are having children much later than they used to have. So the generations are lengthening and that creates a totally different social dynamic in the population, she said.

"Each country is going to adapt in a different way, but we know that adaption is already happening as we speak, with more or less difficulty," she said.

"You have a long period of time for making this adaptation. It' s not something that is going to hit the countries tomorrow. It's a slow process of change," she said.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:李牧(实习))

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