Hip-hop, housework or homework: the differing lives of older people around the world

Agenda 2030
SDG Ziel 10: Weniger Ungleichheiten
Two elderly men are happy on the beach
© Getty Images/kate_sept2004

The world’s population is ageing. By 2050, older people will outnumber young people around the world for the first time. This demographic change is affecting virtually every country. We take a closer look at the lives of older people in Ghana, China, Germany, Peru and Sweden.

The world’s population is at a tipping point: by 2050, there will for the first time be more peo-ple aged over 60 than under 15. Virtually every country around the world is facing an and a declining birth rate. But what does this demographic change mean? How do all these older people live? We take a closer look at the lives of older people in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Ghana: family cohesion fragments

Ghana is a young country, with just 7 per cent of its population currently aged over 60, but the population is ageing: by 2050, 12 per cent of all Ghanaians are likely to be over 60.

Family is the key factor that holds Ghanaian society together. Most older people in Ghana live with their children and grandchildren. Women in particular often continue to work for their community and do family housework well into their later years.

In 2010, however, the Ghanaian Government acknowledged that this . Increasing numbers of young Ghanaians are now moving away to make their future in the cities or abroad. The problem is that the country has no state pension system. Only a few older people who have worked in the private sector can access a pension in retirement; the majority, who fish, farm or run small shops, need the support of their family to live. Increasingly, non-governmental bodies such as the Catholic church and non-profit organisations are required to meet society’s needs, especially in urban areas.

China: respect for older people

China is a country of superlatives, and one of those superlatives is that it has the most rapidly ageing population of any country in the world. Experts predict that by 2050, more than 40 per cent of all Chinese will be over 60, compared with around 16 per cent now.

Older Chinese people have traditionally lived with their children and grandchildren, but this is now the case for less than half of all older people: just 38 per cent live with their family. Chinese families face a tricky balancing act: in the Confucian tradition, children respect and care for their parents and older relatives, yet many younger people are now moving away to find employment. And that makes it hard for them to provide their parents with day-to-day support.

Nonetheless, provided they remain healthy, many older Chinese are able to enjoy their retirement. Videos abound of pensioners dancing to hip-hop or jiving in public parks, to the enthusiastic applause of spectators.

Will China Ban the Dancing Grannies?

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Will China Ban the Dancing Grannies? ©

Source: Wall Street Journal

Germany: pensions policy and a shortage of care

In 1986, the then West German Minister of Labour, Norbert Blüm, promised, “Your pension is secure!” He is still often quoted today, but his words are now more often framed as a question than as a promise. It is not difficult to understand why: by 2050, one in three Germans will be over 60, compared with around a quarter now. And many young Germans are worried that despite contributing to the state pension fund throughout their lives, they will not have an adequate pension themselves when they eventually retire.

This makes pension policy a major issue in every election campaign. A further problem is that around 30 per cent of those needing care now live in care homes, and conditions in some of those homes are already poor. Incidentally, Germany and Italy are the two EU countries with the most rapidly ageing populations.

There are complaints that insufficient attention is paid to older people in Germany. Yet shows that the majority of older people are satisfied with their lives. They use their free time to travel and retain a thirst for knowledge: half of all non-registered students at universities are over the age of 65. Meanwhile, around one third of pensioners volunteer in some capacity.

Sweden: growing old together

Statistics Sweden, the country’s official statistical agency, estimates that by 2050, Sweden’s population will have risen to around 10.5 million people, and around a quarter – some 2.5 million – will be over 65 .

The UN says that Sweden is one of the best countries in the world in which to grow old. Swedes believe the reason is the country’s strong local communities, which have long placed particular emphasis on caring for and supporting older people.

Sweden has adopted the principle that everybody should be able to stay in their own home for as long as possible. It is cheaper for the state – and more pleasant for older people. Local communities support this principle, for example, by providing meals on wheels and promoting the construction of housing geared to the needs of older people.

However, the wider Swedish population also provides help and support, with nine out of ten older Swedes saying that they can rely on the support of family and friends. And the country has a number of large organisations and associations that lobby the Government on the needs of older people in particular and voice their concerns.

Peru: poor health care in rural areas

Latin America is also facing rapid demographic change. In Peru, for example, one fifth of the population will be over 60 by the year 2050: double the current figure.

Only around half of all older people in Peru receive a pension, so many rely on support from their family. Three quarters of all older Peruvians live in multi-generation households, sharing a home with their grown-up children and grandchildren.

Many older people also have no access to health care, particularly those living in rural areas. They often cannot afford to travel long distances to see a doctor, while around a quarter of older people have no health insurance.

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