Elderly to make up 22 % of world population by 2050

Unsplash/Georg Arthur Pflueger

The percentage of the global elderly population is expected to more than double to 1.5 billion for those older than 65 by 2050, according to the United Nations.

The UN International Day of Older Persons, celebrated each 1 October, promotes the human rights of older people worldwide.

“People aged 60 and older make up 12.3 per cent of the global population, and by 2050, that number will rise to almost 22 per cent,” read a statement by UN’s Population Fund.

All regions will see an increase in the size of the older population between 2019 and 2050. The largest increase (312 million) is projected to occur in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, growing from 261 million in 2019 to 573 million in 2050, according to the world body.

While the fastest increase in the number of older persons is expected in northern Africa and Western Asia, the increase is expected to be relatively small in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America.

It went on to say: “Among development groups, less developed countries excluding the least developed countries will be home to more than two-thirds of the world’s older population (1.1 billion) in 2050. Yet the fastest increase is projected to take place in the least developed countries, where the number of persons aged 65 or over could rise from 37 million in 2019 to 120 million in 2050 (225 per cent).”

Young or old, UN calls for ‘digital equality’ for all

Marking the International Day of Older Persons this Friday, the United Nations is driving home the message that “digital equality” online, needs to be inclusive of everybody, regardless of age.

In his message, the UN Secretary-General said that as each individual faces the challenge of navigating the world’s growing reliance on technology, “perhaps no population could benefit more from support, than older persons.”

For António Guterres, these technologies can help older citizens stay connected with loved ones, attend a religious service or take a stance.

“All of these actions and many more are increasingly carried out online, especially as individuals and communities grapple with restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Older persons have often been left more isolated during the pandemic and they are also at greater risk of suffering from the rising threat of cybercrime.

“While taking all possible measures to hold to account those unscrupulous criminals preying on older persons, we must also work to strengthen the digital skills of the elderly as an important defence, and means to improve their well-being,” Mr. Guterres said.

For him, older persons are far more than a vulnerable group: “They are a source of knowledge, experience and rich contributions to our collective progress.”

The Secretary-General also argued that, when older persons can access and use new technology, they will be better equipped to contribute to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

He concluded asking for more inclusive policies, strategies and actions to achieve digital equality for people of all ages.

Despite the rapid digital innovation and exponential growth, one-half of the global population remains off-line, with the starkest contrast between the most developed countries (87%) and the least developed countries (19%). Women and older persons also experience digital inequity to a greater extent.

In Europe, for example, only one in four older Europeans have basic or above basic digital skills, compared to two in three in the age group 35 to 44; three in four among 25-34 year olds and four in five among youth (16-24), according to data from the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

A survey from 2019 shows that, in the European Union, only one in five survey respondents aged 75 and older, at least occasionally engages in Internet activities, compared to 98 per cent of those between the ages of 16 and 29.

The barriers are various, including access to digital devices or the Internet, lack of skills, experience, and self-confidence. Technology design also makes engagement more challenging at an older age, when some physical or cognitive impairments happen.