New Internationalist

The Facts

Issue 264

A RIPE OLD AGE
THE FACTS

LIFE EXPECTANCY THROUGH THE AGES

People are living longer. 500 years ago people didn't expect to live much beyond their twenties. Today they live into their sixties, seventies and beyond.1

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Life expectancy through the ages [image, unknown]
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Photo: Claude Sauvageot

 

FOR RICHER FOR POORER

The world's elderly population is increasing by 800,000 every month. Most of this growth will occur in the South, with the over-80s the fastest-growing group. Countries of the South already contain more than half the world's population aged 60 or over. By 2025 this will have risen to about 70%.2

FOR RICHER FOR POORER


THE CENTURY GAP

People in the North still live longer than those in the South. But the gap is narrowing as the century draws to an end, and will continue to narrow into and beyond the year 2000.3

Life expectancy over the ages.

 

WOMEN AND MEN

Women live longer than men. Almost one old person in four is over 75, and of these almost two-thirds are women. But longevity does not necessarily bring happiness; most of these elderly women are likely to be living in poverty.

  • Life expectancy at age 15 is eight years longer for women than for men in the US, seven years in Canada, five years in Mauritius and four years in Venezuela.

  • Because most women marry men older than themselves and are less likely to remarry, a much higher proportion of women end up living alone. In Asia and Africa, more than half the women over 65 are widows. Under 20 per cent of men are widowers.

  • Women, and especially poor women, are more likely than men to be poor in their old age. In Chile, 65 per cent of old people receiving social assistance are women. In China 41 per cent of old women have incomes which leave them in extreme poverty.

Mother and child.
JEREMY HARTLEY / PANOS PICTURES

 

THE GREYING OF NATIONS

The richer the country you live in - the higher the GNP - the more chance you have of living a long time. Figures below are for 1985.4

Mali [image, unknown] Philippines [image, unknown] Switzerland

 

ARE CHILDREN BAD FOR YOU?

Are children bad for you? The theory goes that children keep you on your toes, in touch with the younger generation as you grow older. But it is also the case that too many children drain your health as well as your pocket. The fewer children you have, the longer you are likely to live. Declining fertility rates in many countries in Asia and Latin America are reflected here in increased life expectancy.5

Are children bad for you?
SEAN SPRAGUE /
PANOS PICTURES

 

1. Adapted from The Sociology of Aging by Diana K Harris and William E Cole (Houghton Mifflin 1980)
2. Ageing, health, social change and policy in developing countries, by Kasturi Sen with Alex Kalache and Yolanda Coombes (Dept. of Public Health and Policy, LSHTM, 1993)
3 & 4. Ageing in Developing Countries by Ken Tout (OUP/Help Age International, 1989)
5. World Bank Development Report 1983 and Human Development Report 1994
6. Other information from The World Aging Situation: Strategies and Policiies (United Nations, 1991)

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995


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