Latin America and the Caribbean is aging at an accelerated and unprecedented rate. At present, 11 percent of its inhabitants are over 60 years old, a percentage that still does not amount to what is considered to be an aging population, as in the case of Europe (23.9 percent) or North America (20.8 percent). However, it is expected that by 2030 the population over 60 in Latin America and the Caribbean will reach 17 percent, and by 2050 one in every four inhabitants of the region will have reached that age. Europe needed 65 years to travel the same path.
In just three decades, the population of adults over 60 in Latin America and the Caribbean will be similar to the figures seen today in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and Denmark. Not all countries will age equally, according to forecasts of the United Nations. Guatemala, Guyana, and Haiti will do so at a more moderate pace, and by 2050 they will reach the levels of China today, with 15 percent of their populations over 60 years old. But The Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay may be compared with Germany, Finland, or even Japan, with older adults accounting for about 30 percent of their populations.
The difference is that Latin America and the Caribbean will most likely not be as prepared, particularly in terms of health and pension coverage, as Europe was at the time of its aging process.
It’s Time to Prepare for a New Demographic Scenario
Although living to older age is good news, the aging of the population brings with it important challenges to pension and health systems. As societies age, the proportion of people with difficulties performing daily activities increases and they need the help and care of others.
According to IDB estimates, in 2015, 1 percent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean (that is, about 4 million people) could already be considered dependent. It is expected that by 2050, that share will have increased to 3 percent (about 20 million).
The family has traditionally been mainly responsible for dispensing care, but the reduction in family size, the decrease in birth rates, and the incorporation of women into the labor market are transforming this reality.
While the demand for support services has increased, the number of people who used to provide those services informally has decreased. This will require concrete measures on the part of government officials in charge of making decisions regarding health and social protection. Countries must prepare themselves to face the pressures that will come. The sooner they do, the conditions of vulnerability or social exclusion of older adults will diminish.
The demographic changes in Latin America and the Caribbean also imply a decrease in the number of people of working age, which means there is a smaller number of taxpayers to pay for the needs of an increasing number of beneficiaries of social security systems. At the same time, a greater proportion of older adults will increase the demand for health services, especially those related to chronic diseases that are, generally, the most expensive. In the region, these diseases are usually combined with high rates of infectious diseases, a factor that places additional pressure on public health.
A Virtual Observatory to Monitor the Dependency Landscape
In order to provide governments with accurate information to design effective and realistic policies, the IDB has published “Panorama on Aging and Long-term Care” to document the demographic situation of Latin American and Caribbean countries, including the health status of older adults, their limitations and degree of dependence, and their main socioeconomic characteristics. Although the Panorama addresses the issues of pensions and health, its main purpose is to fill the gap in the specific area of support for persons in dependency status that, inexorably, will end up affecting all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the future, the goal is to offer an interactive and virtual platform that includes information on both the factors that determine the demand for care and the supply and cost of services that can be accessed by decision-makers and professionals in the sector. In the meantime, I invite you to read the following free publications:
- Overview of Aging and Long-term Care in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Long-term Care in Latin America and the Caribbean
The design of universal long-term policies that improve the provision of care for dependent persons has not yet taken hold. Having as complete a vision as possible of current and future support needs, and analyzing the capacity of public or private institutions and families to respond to the demands of an aging population, will be key to helping older adults see and live their future with optimism.
What is the outlook for aging and dependence in your country? Do you know about initiatives like the Panorama? Tell us in the comments section or at @BIDgente on Twitter.