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The challenge of an ageing world
The experience and meaning of old age is being transformed as increased longevity and decreased fertility lead to a global shift in the demographic balance.
By the turn of this century, there were more people aged over 60 than under 15 in the European Union (EU). By 2030, half the population of Western Europe will be over the age of 50, with a quarter over 65. By 2050, a quarter of a million centenarians will live in Europe. Yet by 2050 most of the world’s 2 billion older people will live in less developed regions. Many of these older adults already live in acute poverty, lacking income support and the basics of primary health care. While it took Europe some 120 years to move from a young to a mature population, the equivalent shift will have occurred in Asia within around 25 years.
Established in 2001, the Oxford Institute of Ageing (OIA) is the first research institute to examine the ageing of societies and demographic change, rather than the ageing of old people themselves. Its aim is to understand how an ageing population affects work, family and social networks; political, economic and consumer behaviour; the delivery of health and social services; and how state support should be provided. Its researchers work with colleagues in government and policymaking to help develop economic, political and social structures to take advantage of the opportunities that a mature society will bring.
Such opportunities are beginning to emerge in the developed world. But elsewhere, few countries have the infrastructure to provide pensions and health care to their elderly populations. ‘It is essential that the best possible economic, social and political structures are developed now to avoid catastrophe’, says Professor Sarah Harper, Director of the Institute.
In 2005 OIA became one of the inaugural ten institutes in Oxford to receive support from the James Martin 21st Century School to conduct research into one of the most challenging problems facing the world today. The same year the Institute took on the world’s largest global study on the future of retirement, funded by HSBC, investigating the attitudes to ageing and longevity of 24,000 people in 21 countries. With funding from a range of other sources, including the charity Help the Aged and the UK Department for Work and Pensions, OIA researchers are also pursuing a wide range of research projects on topics such as multi-generational families, pension reform, the role of migrants in providing care for older people and the ethical issues that arise as people live longer.
‘We are fully committed to the belief that high-quality, strategic research, allied with good policy and practice, will ultimately lead to better lives for older people throughout the world’, says Professor Harper.