Tell me if this sounds familiar. You are speaking to someone, who says “this is just the way it is”, or “I didn’t have a choice”, or perhaps “I know it’s not right, but this is our fate”. Or perhaps you have read similar accounts. More often than not, these or similar words are spoken by women – and they are spoken around the world. Have you noticed the inflections in their voices, or the expressions on their faces? Have you wondered about these women and what their lives are truly like? Are these just statements of fact, or do they conceal a much bigger issue?
Within a century, Japan would become the world’s second largest economy. Its growth has been fueled by cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and Kobe. Japanese cities can offer a myriad of lessons to their counterparts in developing countries.
Japanese cities are also at the forefront of dealing with some of the world’s most pressing challenges. For example, cities like Osaka and Toyama have developed a number of tools to address the social issues caused by rapid aging. Most developed and developing cities in the world will face similar challenges in the years to come. Providing a platform where these cities can learn from the experience of Japanese cities may lead to significant development impact.
Supported by a partnership between the World Bank and Japan, the Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC) does just that.
This last May in Tokyo, we talked about demographic transitions and aging cities, in a week-long discussion with city leaders from around the world. Although we saw the opportunities that arise from having large numbers of elderly persons in cities, we also focused on the numerous challenges, many of which are grounded in age-related disability – both physical and cognitive. We had expected that the conversation would be as our flagship report on social inclusion, Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity, puts it – about “including” the elderly into markets, services, and spaces following our framework.
Enter Rich Donovan, with a riveting talk that stood our assumptions on their heads. Rich argued that persons with disability are a market. They are an opportunity. And that there is an economic “return on disability.” If we build and design having persons with disabilities in mind, we are in fact creating public goods. In short, and as Rich has said elsewhere - this new vision of disability “transforms efforts of charity into the world’s largest emerging market”.
I got a chance to talk to Rich in Tokyo. Among other things, I asked him whether “social inclusion” is too arcane, or even too limiting an idea for the revolutionary take that he has on disability.
Rich’s book “Unleash Different” will be out in September 2018. We look forward to continuing the conversation with Rich about the return on disability. Meanwhile, watch this video in full, and leave a comment to share your thoughts, as world leaders gather in London for the Global Disability Summit.
Virtually everywhere, the share of “older persons,” aged 60 years or over, is increasing. In 2015, one in eight people worldwide was 60 or older; in 2030, this number will be one in six people, and by 2050, one in five people.
Aging – and by the same token, aging in cities – is an outcome of increasing longevity and declining birthrates, and is currently more prevalent in wealthier economies. However, Not only is this rate likely to exceed that of the developed countries in the past, but it is also likely to occur at much lower levels of national income, and weaker systems of social protection (pensions, social security, etc.)
This demographic shift will have far-reaching social and economic consequences. Accordingly, it is important to recognize that aging is not a “problem” per se, but that it can become a challenge if the social, physical, economic, and policy environment is not adapted to demographic change. Aging is also changing the way money is spent and, as such, presents a massive opportunity for companies to tap into the “longevity economy” and to harness new innovations and disruptive technologies to increase the autonomy of older people.
From May 21-25, 2018, representatives from 15 cities in 12 countries visited Japan for a Technical Deep Dive on Aging Cities to learn about the fundamental paradigm shifts necessary to ensure that their cities offer a vibrant, productive, and livable environment for all residents, including the elderly. In this video, Anna Wellenstein (Director, Strategy and Operations), Maitreyi Das (Practice Manager / Global Lead, Social Inclusion) and Phil Karp (Lead Knowledge Management Specialist) discuss the growing importance for cities and countries to understand, plan for, and adapt to the dramatic – but predictable – demographic shift that is occurring globally.
Nature has given every species an intrinsic life span. Life span is a bit like an upper bound to life expectancy: if you got every member of a species healthier and healthier, life expectancy of that species would constantly increase, but eventually be bound by life span.
Every species has a different life span: for flies, it’s just a couple of days, for bowhead whales it’s 200 years. For humans, biologists have found that up until the 1960s, life span was around 89 years. This means that if we kept improving our health systems, the world population’s life expectancy would converge to our species’ life span of 89.
So how did we break the limits of life expectancy?
Asian societies are aging, and Thailand is aging rapidly. Already over 10 percent of the Thai population, or more than 7 million people, are 65 years old or older. By 2040, a projected 17 million Thais above 65 years of age will account for more than a quarter of the population. Together with China, Thailand already has the highest share of elderly people of any developing country in East Asia and Pacific, and it is expected to have the highest elderly share by 2040. A recent World Bank report, Live Long and Prosper: Aging in East Asia and Pacific (pdf), discusses aging in Asia and how countries can address the resulting challenges, and take advantage of emerging opportunities.
In many ways, aging is a consequence of longer life expectancy due to development success in Thailand: people live longer, and fertility has come down rapidly from the unsustainably high levels of earlier decades. However, every success brings new challenges and aging is no exception. For example, the size of the working age population in Thailand is expected to shrink over 10 percent by 2040. Thailand has exhausted its “demographic dividend”, and future growth and improvement in living standards will largely come from increases in productivity. In addition, households headed by elderly Thais are twice as likely to be poor as those in their 30s and 40s, and in most cases are not covered by formal sector pension schemes.
In the last three decades, East Asia has reaped the demographic dividend. An abundant and growing labor force powered almost one-third of the region’s per capita income growth from the 1960s to the 1990s, making it the world’s growth engine.
Now, East Asia is facing the challenges posed by another demographic trend: rapid aging. A new World Bank report finds that East Asia and Pacific is aging faster – and on a larger scale – than any other region in history.
More than 211 million people ages 65 and over live in East Asia and Pacific, accounting for 36 percent of the global population in that age group. By 2040, East Asia’s older population will more than double, to 479 million, and the working-age population will shrink by 10 percent to 15 percent in countries such as Korea, China, and Thailand.
Across the region, as the working-age population declines and the pace of aging accelerates, policy makers are concerned with the potential impact of aging on economic growth and rising demand for public spending on health, pension and long-term care systems.
As the region ages rapidly, how do governments, employers and households ensure that hard-working people live healthy and productive lives in old age? How do societies in East Asia and Pacific promote productive aging and become more inclusive?
Looking at the past development of life expectancy, we can see a clear trend of considerable gains across all world regions since 1950. The question arises: Will this past trend continue forever, allowing future generations to live at some point to the age of 150 years and even beyond? Or is there some limit to increases in life expectancy—an upper bound which human kind won’t be able to cross?
Yes, there is a physiological limit to human life, but there is no absolute maximum age, which no human can ever cross. In biology, the concept of life span determines the age a species can reach under optimal circumstances. For humans, this life span stands at about 97 years. So 97 should, in principle, be the limit to human life expectancy. But there is a twist that gives us hope for more.
In our previous blog post, we wrote about how getting a good head start in brain development builds the foundation of our cognitive abilities. It puts us in a path towards socio-economic success and makes us more resilient to aging and mid-life adversities. In this post, we’ll discuss how early-life experiences influence the development of socio-emotional abilities and of a more resilient brain, and how this new evidence can help development professionals design cost-effective policies that take into account a person’s human development during his/her lifetime.
Optimal brain development can in turn make healthy aging possible. As Jack Shonkoff and colleagues have put it: “Many adult diseases are, in fact, developmental disorders that begin early in life.”
Investing in people starts by ensuring that graduates leave school with strong basic/foundational skills, such as in reading and mathematics. Such skills are critical for subsequent study, for quickly finding a first job, and for adapting to continuous technological change. But are countries in the EU ready to face that challenge?