The York University Magazine

Fall 2015

The alumni magazine of York University

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Population aging will have dramatic effects on social entitle- ment programs, labour supply, trade and savings around the globe, and may demand new fiscal approaches to accommo- date a changing world. So what does it mean to grow old? Ask various experts who study aging – as we did for this article – and you'll get just as many different answers. We all have our own take on what it means to age with dignity. But one thing is clear: As the baby boom generation retires, Canada is quickly heading towards becoming a blue-rinse nation. By 2050, 31 per cent of all Canadians will be 60 or older. That's nearly a third of the country's present population. There are many myths and misconceptions about what aging is and what it means to grow old. One is that the baby boomers, and the elderly in general, are going to place an incredible burden on the economy when they retire. But the journal PLOS ONE suggests otherwise in a case study on aging populations in Germany. While people will live longer, they'll also stay healthier longer. According to the study, the average German man in 2050 will spend 80 per cent of his life in good health, compared to 63 per cent today. There will also be more old people with higher levels of education than in our parents' time. This could help offset any decline in the labour force. As well, boomers will be inheriting their parents' wealth, which will help them fund their retirement without relying as heavily on government support. Quality of life levels are also expected to rise in the next decades, with leisure time increasing on average. This will not only benefit the elderly, but also the generations behind them. While the most developed countries have the oldest popula- tion profiles, less-developed countries have the most rapidly aging populations. What's driving this demographic trend? Declines in fertility and improvements in longevity are two major factors. Between 2010 and 2050, the number of older people in less developed countries is projected to increase by more than 250 per cent, compared to 71 per cent in devel- oped countries. In China, the world's most populous country, those aged 65 and over is predicted to swell from 110 million today to 330 million by 2050. By the middle of the century there could be 100 million Chinese people over the age of 80. Experts predict that on a global level, the number of people aged 85 and over will increase by 351 per cent in the next 35 years. The global number of centenarians is projected to increase tenfold by 2050. This dramatic increase in life expectancy is one of the 20th century's greatest achievements but also one of its major challenges in terms of social and economic policy. At Risk A S W E G E T O L D, are we completely at the mercy of the calendar or can we go gently – and with dignity and com- fort – into that good night? The short answer is maybe we can, but perhaps not in Canada. If you want to be assured you'll have quality care provided by the state, you'd be better off in Nordic countries like Sweden, according to Professor Tamara Daly, who is among the roughly two dozen research- ers doing aging-related work as part of the York University Centre for Aging Research & Education (YU-CARE), housed in the Faculty of Health. In terms of caring for the oldest old, Canada lags far behind many of the more progressive European nations, says Daly, a Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Chair in Gender, Work and Health, whose research focuses on health-care work, aging and long-term care policy, as well as gender, ethnicity and health policy. According to Daly, Canada trails behind countries such as Sweden, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands in overall elder care. The Global AgeWatch Index (2013) corroborates this observation, noting that Canada placed fifth on the list behind those countries. However, the index also shows that, in terms of income security, Canada places 26th on the list ONE OF THE BIGGEST MYTHS ABOUT THE INCREASING NUMBER OF OLDER ADULTS IS THAT THEY ARE GOING TO BANKRUPT THE SYSTEM 14 The York University Magazine Fall 2015

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