What does a world with billions of old people look like?

Apartments in Singapore’s Queenstown district will soon offer slip-resistant floors and doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. In Japan, a recently built light railway in the northern city of Toyama has carriages that, as they pull into a station, clamp onto the platforms, ensuring the elderly don’t trip through gaps. In the village of Landais in southern France, every detail is aimed at helping Alzheimer’s sufferers live as comfortably as possible; Grocery items in rural stores do not have price labels, eliminating the need for residents to estimate costs. (Those costs are covered by government agencies.) The idea is to give residents a shopping experience without the hassle of transactions. Similar communities for people with dementia have been established on the outskirts of Amsterdam and on the shores of Lake Rotorua in New Zealand.

Collectively, these are vignettes of our shared future — a world that is aging and thus changing in “fundamental ways,” as the UN put it in a recent report.

By the middle of this century, the number of people aged 65 and over worldwide will exceed 1.6 billion, rising from 760 million in 2021. In other words, there will be more than twice as many old people per generation. From now on.

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“This is not a short-term challenge like famine or drought or war, but a long-predicted and natural change in the structure of our societies,” said John W. Rowe told the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics Grid.

It is a change with far-reaching implications.

“The basic institutions of our societies — work, retirement, education, health care, housing and transportation — are not designed to support the demographic age distribution of our future society,” Rowe explained. “They need to be re-engineered to adapt.”

An aging world: Where are the “greyers”?

To understand what this “future society” might look like, Grid spoke with demographers and health experts to see how demographics are changing in different parts of the world. While aging poses a collective challenge, interviews and a survey of data show that the problems of aging and the way societies deal with it vary widely.

In 1980, Europe dominated the UN’s list of the top 10 “grey” places; Sweden tops the list with 16 percent of the population aged 65 or older. Germany, Austria, UK and Norway are close behind.

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Last year, Japan led the world, with a very high percentage: nearly a third of its citizens were 65 or older. By 2050, Hong Kong is expected to top the chart, with more than 40 percent of people in that age group. At the same time, the percentage of elderly residents will rise significantly. In the 1980s, a quarter of the population of the ten “greatest” countries were elderly; By mid-century, the comparable figure would be one-third.

New York-based head of Japan, Joshua W. “I think the world is now catching up to (the way demographics are changing) society,” Walker told Grid.

That tipping point has the potential to fundamentally reshape our world. Take the question of pension. As things stand, public spending on pensions in advanced and emerging economies is projected to rise to an average of 9.6 percent of gross economic output by 2050, up from 7 percent in the 1970s and 8 percent in 2010. That’s an increase of hundreds to billions of dollars, and it will have a profound impact on government spending on everything from infrastructure to education to health care.

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The good news is that tackling these and other challenges is possible, several experts told The Grid. There is a mountain of studies, reports and proposals to deal with global demographic changes. “After all, we’ve known about these changes for decades,” Rowe explained.

The bad news: The world hasn’t paid enough attention. In many ways, experts say, it bears comparison to global warming — the other giant human challenge, one that has been talked about for too long, has been ignored for too long, and lacks the concerted action needed to address the problem.

“There are similarities with climate change,” Paul Irving, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, told The Grid. Irving was previously the founding chairman of the institute’s Center for the Future of Aging.

“We tend to get caught up in the immediate situation in front of us, and often we look in the rearview mirror instead of looking at what lies ahead. Demographic change has been coming for a long time, we knew it was coming and we are now in the middle of it. “


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