Social Philosophy

The Challenges and Opportunities of an Ageing Population

Dr George Leeson
Monday, 9 March 2020 - 7:00pm


Life expectancies at birth have increased at the global level from 47 years in the mid-20th century to around 71 years today and are expected to rise to 78 years by the mid-21st century and to 83 years by the end of the century. The proportion of the world’s population aged 65 years and over has increased from 5 per cent in the mid-20th century to just over 8 per cent in 2015 and, by 2050, it is expected to reach almost 16 per cent which equates to more than 1.5 billion people.  The end of the century will see 23 per cent and 2.5 billion of the world’s population aged 65 years and over.

Europe and North America aged through the 20th century with Japan joining in the latter part of that century.  The populations of much of Asia will age dramatically in the first decades of the 21st century and Latin America will follow suit later this century.  This means their window of opportunity for adaptation to this demographic change remains open for some time to come.

This demographic development is driven primarily by declining fertility but also by declining mortality ensuring larger and larger proportions of a generation survive into old age.  In the newly ageing populations fertility decline has often been striking.  For example, in the Republic of Korea fertility declined in the course of just one generation from almost 3 in 1975-80 to 1.23 in 2010-15.  Such a dramatic decline in fertility presents huge challenges to individuals, to families and to society as a whole - not least because many of these societies are largely family-based in respect of support.

This development presents challenges and opportunities to us as individuals as we live increasingly long lives and also to our families and communities.  Of course governments also need to address these challenges and harness the opportunities of an ageing population.


About the speaker

Dr George W. Leeson is Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing at the University of Oxford and Senior Research Fellow in Demography at the University of Oxford.  He is also a Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford as well as a member of the Oxford Martin School and the University’s Department of Sociology.

His research interests are in the socio-economic-demographic aspects of ageing populations and he is responsible for Oxford’s Global Ageing Survey carried out in three waves in more than 20 countries and including approximately 45,000 persons aged 40-79 years.

Dr Leeson is Visiting Professor of Social Demography at the University of Guanajuato-Leon in Mexico and, as a demographic expert, he has been a member of the European Commission’s team to develop a strategy for DG SANCO’s policy and legislative framework to deliver on EU food safety and nutrition to 2050.