Highlights Vol 23, No. 02 - February 2019

60 is the new 50: Rethinking ageing in the SDGs era

Blowing out the birthday candles, a newly minted sexagenarian will often think: “But I don’t feel 60.” And demographers back that sentiment with data that documents the remarkable revolution in longevity, which is redefining the meaning of turning 60. In a very real, demographic sense, 60 is the new 50.

According to statistics from UN DESA’s World Population Prospects, new 60-year-olds in high-income countries can expect to live at least another 25 years. As recently as in the 1950s, this was true of 50-year-olds.

All societies in the world are in the midst of this longevity revolution – some are at its earlier stages and some are more advanced. But all will pass through this extraordinary transition, in which survival to age 60 changes from a flip‑of‑the-coin, 50-50 chance – as was the case in Sweden in the 1880s – to a near certainty at present. What is more, the proportion of adult life spent beyond age 60 increases from less than a quarter to a third or more in most developed countries.

These changes for individuals are mirrored in societal changes. Older persons become the largest demographic group in society – accounting for more than a quarter of the population. Today, that is true for 15 countries, but UN DESA’s Population Division expects that number to grow to 145 countries by the end of the century covering most of the world’s population.

Traditionally, the United Nations and most researchers have used measures and indicators on ageing that are mostly or entirely based on people’s chronological age, defining older persons as those 60 years and older. This has so far provided a simple, clear and easily replicable way to measure and track various indicators of ageing.

However, there has been increasing recognition that the mortality risks, health status, type and level of activity, productivity, and other socio-economic characteristics of older persons have changed significantly in many parts of the world over the last century, and even more so, over the last several decades. This has led to the development of alternative concepts and measures of ageing to provide different outlooks on the levels and trends of ageing, and to offer a more nuanced appreciation of what ageing means in different contexts.

New measurements and concepts of population ageing have significant implications for measuring living conditions and living arrangements of older persons as well as their contributions to their societies. Further, new measurement approaches impact on the assessment of older persons’ needs for social protection and health care, their labour market participation as well as planning for life-long education.

These changes, and the various approaches to understanding and measuring ageing, also carry important implications for the review of long-term, international development goals. These include the objectives highlighted in the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) and, most recently, the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To take stock of these new concepts and methodological approaches to measuring ageing and to assess their applicability and possible implications for policy analysis and policy development at the national and international level, UN DESA’s Population Division, the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA), and Chulalongkorn University, in collaboration with the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP), are organizing an international expert group meeting on “Measuring population ageing: Bridging Research and Policy”. One of the highlights of the event will be a moderated discussion of journalists on the role of media as they inform but also reflect public attitudes and opinions on population ageing.

The meeting will be held in Bangkok, Thailand from 25 to 26 February 2019 and is expected to be attended by about 80-100 government officials, academia, civil society and the media from all over the world.

Interested participants who will not be able to attend the event in person can follow the event via live-stream over the internet.

For more information: Expert group meeting on “Measuring population ageing: Bridging Research and Policy”

Inclusive social development – essential to achieve the global goals

Social exclusion is connected to all forms of inequality. It affects people’s well-being and deprives them of opportunities and civil representation, which can ultimately push powerless groups into the margins of society. “High and worsening inequality is becoming the defining issue of our time,” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin at a recent meeting of the General Assembly’s Third Committee. “According to some estimates, the richest one percent of the global population owned 82 percent of stock of wealth in 2017, while the poorest half saw no increase in their wealth.”

“However, rising inequality is not inevitable,” Mr. Liu continued, referencing the important work of the Commission for Social Development and the fact that the priority theme of the Commission’s 57th session will be “Addressing Inequalities and Challenges to Social Inclusion through Fiscal, Wage and Social Protection Policies.”

Taking place at UN Headquarters in New York from 11 to 21 February, the event will feature four high-level panel discussions, general debates, as well as over 45 side events. Organizations accredited to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Member States and UN Agencies will come together to build on the outcomes of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly and the past Commission.

In addition to the main theme, the Commission will look closer at the emerging issue of the “Empowerment of people affected by natural and human-made disasters to reduce inequality: Addressing the differential impact on persons with disabilities, older persons and youth.”

There are also two newly added panel discussions – a ministerial forum on social protection and an interactive dialogue on the priority theme – which will allow for an in-depth consultation on topics of interest to the Commission.

The side events will cover a broad range of related issues, such as accountability mechanisms, family policies, youth entrepreneurship and national initiatives in various regions, including Africa, Latin America and Europe. In addition, the NGO Committee on Social Development will host a Civil Society Forum on 15 February to forge partnership among stakeholders.

“The role of this Commission is of crucial importance to providing substantive, engaging, technical and expert advice with concrete and action-oriented policy recommendations to ECOSOC and Member States,” remarked Ms. Sama Salem Poules, Vice-Chair of the Bureau of the Commission’s 57th Session. “Without inclusive social development, there will be no achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Ms. Daniela Bas, Director of UN DESA’s Division for Inclusive Social Development, further stressed that fiscal, wage and social protection policies must be sensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society, such as persons with disabilities, older persons and youth, who are affected by natural and human-made disasters.

The multi-stakeholder panels at this year’s Commission will reaffirm the commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by addressing the systemic causes associated with social exclusion and exchanging their views on equitable and inclusive social development.

For more information: 57th Session of the Commission for Social Development (CSocD57)

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