Fifty leading international policy experts and practitioners gathered in Oxford last weekend for the symposium on ageing in emerging markets, sponsored by C&C Alpha Group and attended by executive director Bhanu Choudhrie.
They came from more than 20 emerging market and high income countries and included specialists in gerontology, economics, finance, sociology, anthropology, medicine, health policy and social policy and senior figures from the worlds of politics, business and civil society.
The symposium agreed that the belief that old age begins at 65 is unfit for purpose and ripe for replacement; that definitions of retirement age must be drastically modified; that social and economic policies must be grounded in realistic assumptions about life expectancy; and that the equation of old age and disability must be discarded given that (for example) 83% of China’s elderly population reported no health problem in the 2010 census.
The United Nations anticipates that, by 2050, the proportion of populations aged over 65 will rise from 7% in 2010 to 20% in Brazil; from 8% to 24% in China; from 13% to 26% in Russia; and from 5% to 12% in India. These changes - driven by declining fertility and rising longevity – will continue extensions of healthy life that have already been achieved in high income countries - and will offer dramatic possibilities for economic growth and productivity.
The symposium concluded that the advantages of healthy longevity will not, however, be realized if emerging markets fail to match the challenges and opportunities with their distinctive political, cultural, social and institutional environments. While emerging markets can and should learn from each other and from higher income countries they should not expect to find common solutions to shared problems and should not copy models designed for other times and places.
The symposium also concluded that the economic, social and cultural benefits of healthy longevity will be elusive if emerging markets fail to take advantage of new technologies, promote healthier lifestyles, create physical and social environments adapted to physical and mental frailties, develop holistic lifetime health and education strategies, adopt realistic approaches to financial security in the final stages of life and coordinate age related policies and plans across jurisdictional boundaries within governments.
Emerging economies have made very limited progress in planning for the phenomenon of longevity. Many rely on outdated or imported policies. Few have acknowledged that demographic transformation, like urbanization and the epidemiological transition from communicable to non-communicable diseases, is incomparably faster in emerging markets than in higher income countries. The scale and speed of ageing in emerging markets means they have less time to adjust and that existing social and economic inequalities and the incidence of old-age poverty could be seriously exacerbated in the absence of countervailing actions.