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Soc Sci Med. 1994 Nov;39(9):1323-38.

The social impact of aging populations: some major issues.

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  • 1Division of Health Promotion & Protection, Pan American Health Organization, Washington, DC 20037-2895.


Demographic trends regarding the issue of aging underscore the fact that both current situations and future trends directly concerns all of us. Aging is the reality for the future world. The pace at which demographic transition develops varies among countries and regions of the world, but most of the developed and developing countries will be challenged by increasing numbers of dependent individuals. This is particularly critical in the less-developed countries where older populations will increase substantially faster. It is expected that by the year 2000, Latin America and the Caribbean will have 41 million elderly, 7.2% of the total population. By 2025 this percentage will increase to 10.8%. The stunning growth of the elderly demands special attention of policy and decision-makers. The total dependency ratio will decrease in the Americas between 1980 and 2025 due to a marked decrease in the fertility rate, whereas old age dependency ratios will show a marked increase in all countries except Haiti and Surinam. Most of the elderly populations, predominantly women, are living in urban centers. This fact is one of the most important characteristic of the socioeconomic picture in Latin American and Caribbean countries: urbanization with poverty. Women are bearing mainly the burden. It is obvious that, from a cultural perspective, the social impact of aging populations is a complex issue. The wide range of possible future programs will be the result of differences and similarities in social values, relationships, and dynamics within each society. It is important to recognize that since modern industrialized societies live in a culture emphasizing competition for economic wealth, that values economic over social productivity, and where inequities based on class, gender, and race are accepted, that these are the issues influencing the parameters of aging populations. Social policy development for the elderly needs to be critically examined in order for society to adapt to aging as well as for older populations to adapt to a charging society. The major political challenge is the need for redistributive policies. Developing countries must add new priorities to their scarce resources, for social programs for elderly, while still having to deal with the problems of their younger populations. Women issues are extremely important in considering social policies for elderly population. Feminization of poverty and ill-health during old age is a result of exacerbated risks for women across the life course. Appropriate care and support for this vulnerable group is a priority.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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