The state of senior citizens in facts and figures

In our democratic society of one person one vote, this means political power. And in a free market society, numbers mean financial clout. Seniors have this clout, which is called gray power.

By JUAN DE LA ROCA
December 4, 2018 14:54
4 minute read.
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Beach sunset . (photo credit: Wikicommons)

 
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Seniors have become a key element in our society, and the problems and issues relating to this sector have become important issues because they have economic political and social repercussions. The reason is the increase in numbers.

In our democratic society of one person one vote, this means political power. And in a free market society, numbers mean financial clout. Seniors have this clout, which is called gray power.

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The number of those over age 65 is constantly increasing. At the start of the 20th century, life expectancy for men and women was 50. By the end of the last century, it was 66. In 2010 it was 67.2, and it is increasing.

According to the latest figures published by the World Health Organization, the average global life expectancy for both sexes was 67.3. Israel was in eighth place at 82.5 for both sexes -- 84.3 for women and 80.6 for men.

According to WHO figures, the top five countries with regard to life expectancy are Japan 83.7; Switzerland 83.4; Singapore, 83.1; Spain and Australia 82.8. At the other end of the scale. the lowest life expectancy is in Sierra Leone at 50.1. Angola is second last at 52.4. The Central African Republic has a life expectancy of 52.5, Chad 53.1, and the Ivory Coast has a life expectancy of 53.3.

According to UN estimates, by 2040 the global population of those over 65 will number 1.3 billion, accounting for 14% of the world’s population. By 2050, the proportion of the global population of 65 and over will more than double, from 7.6% today to 16.2%, increasing from 680 million to two billion.

The increase in the life expectancy levels is also increasing the number of centenarians, doubling them every 13 years. In 2009 there were 455,000 centenarians. By 2050, the number of those aged 100 plus will have risen to 4.1 million. Japan has the highest ratio of centenarians: 350 for every one million inhabitants. The Shimane prefecture in southern Japan heads the list with an estimated 750 centenarians per million inhabitants.

The increase in life expectancy is creating opportunities, but it is also creating problems. The tempo of life is not being adapted to the realities of the increasing life expectancy, especially in the area of financial and commercial issues.


In the free market economy in the Western world, the private sector is developing services and products adapted to the needs of seniors. These include real estate developments adapted to golden agers such as sheltered housing projects, retirement villages. And travel and tourism are adapting as well, with special vehicles adapted to their needs, etc.

While the private sector is adapting to the changing needs of seniors, the public sector is taking much longer. The government-owned health services are not adapting quickly enough to the needs of an aging population. But the issue that is creating the most severe problem is the macroeconomic effects of the aging population and the inability of the political systems to adapt labor laws and pension agreements to the realities of a populations that is both aging and, in a sense, undergoing a process of “jeunification.”

From a chronological perspective, people are living much longer lives. And the quality of life has improved dramatically. A 75-year-old today is as physically able as a 50-year-old was, say, 70 years ago. Accordingly, a 75- or 80-year-old has the physical and mental capacity to participate in the labor force. Yet males are pensioned off at age 65 or 67 and women at 62. The current retirement age creates unsustainable pressures on the economy.

In practice, this means that in an aging population, the number of the elderly as a percentage of the population increases, while the number of the young decreases. This means that the number of those participating in the workforce is falling, while the non-productive element is growing. This also means that the number of those working and supporting the number of non-workers is growing to unacceptable levels. In countries such as Japan, the number of those over 65 as a percentage of the population may reach 25%.

If the number of dependents (i.e., children) is taken into account, it means that the workforce may decrease to less than 30% of the total population. This means that every productive worker will be supporting more than 2.33 individuals.

The only solution is to increase the retirement age. In a democratic system of government, this decision is the prerogative of the legislatures. Since increasing retirement age is not popular with the electorate, the decision is stalled. This holds true for our own Knesset, which has been trying to raise the retirement age for women from 62.

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