Public Health Population Aging
by
Lynda Anderson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0094

Introduction

The age of a population, or group of people, can change over time and become younger or older. “Population aging” refers to the process whereby older people account for a proportionally larger share of the total population. It is sometimes referred to as “demographic aging” or “global aging.” Increases in life expectancy are clearly a successful result of improvements in public health and medicine. This resultant aging of the population has profound effects on social, economic, health, and political systems that must adapt to the changing age structure. The increase in the numbers of older adults, often accompanied by a slowed growth in the number of children, will have dramatic consequences for public health, economic growth, housing, workforce, and social and health-care services. At the same time, it may inspire new policies and programs designed to promote health, independence, and well-being across the life cycle and to seize on other positive aspects of aging. Population aging is a global phenomenon. Analysis of the aging trends in the United States, for example, reveals changes in the proportion of the population over the age of sixty-five and the important growth within the older population. The proportion of adults aged sixty-five years or older stood at 4.1 percent in 1900, rose to 13.7 percent in 2012, and is projected to increase to 21 percent by the year 2040. The fastest-growing segment of the total population is people aged eighty years and over, with a growth rate twice that for those sixty-five years and older, and almost four times that for the total population. As of 2010, this group represents 10 percent of the older population and will more than triple by 2050.

General Overviews

It is critical to understand the attitudes toward an aging population. Attitudes about Aging: A Global Perspective (Pew Research Center 2014) highlights public perceptions about potential challenges posed by aging for the country and for the respondents personally. Several reports provide analysis of data trends and projections on demographics and other characteristics. World Population Ageing 2013 (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division 2013) includes information about demographic determinants, demographic profiles and characteristics of older populations, and intergenerational transfers and well-being in old age. Global Health and Aging (National Institute on Aging and World Health Organization 2011) provides a comprehensive examination of numerous population aging issues. Shades of Gray: A Cross-Country Study of Health and Well-Being of the Older Populations in SAGE Countries, 2007–2010 (He, et al. 2012) is a report that gives comparisons across six countries by using data from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE). An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States; Current Population Reports (Ortman, et al. 2014) presents projections on how the age structure of the US population is expected to change over the coming decades. Finally, The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States (Shrestha and Heisler 2011) highlights the changing demographics in the United States and provides examples of how changes will affect the nation over time.

  • He, Wan, Mark N. Muenchrath, and Paul Kowal. 2012. Shades of gray: A cross-country study of health and well-being of the older populations in SAGE countries, 2007–2010. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau.

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    This report provides comparisons across six countries by using data from WHO’s SAGE. These overviews highlight characteristics of the “graying” populations in the six middle- and low-income SAGE participant countries.

  • National Institute on Aging and World Health Organization. 2011. Global health and aging Publication 11-7737. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Aging.

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    Examines, from a global perspective, a number of issues related to health and population aging, including aging demographics, trends, and projections; life expectancy and longevity; disability and dementia; data on aging and health; costs of aging and disability; health and work; the changing roles of the family; and long-term care.

  • Ortman, Jennifer M., Victoria A. Velkoff, and Howard Hogan. 2014. An aging nation: The older population in the United States; Current population reports. Current Population Reports P25-1140. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau, Population Projections Branch.

    E-mail Citation »

    The size and characteristics of the US older population is important for social and economic reasons both to the public and private sectors. This report presents projections on how the age structure of the US population is expected to change over the coming decades, focusing on the older population in terms of age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin.

  • Pew Research Center. 2014. Attitudes about aging: A global perspective. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

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    This report highlights the findings from a Pew Research Center survey of twenty-one countries, conducted with 22,425 respondents, to assess public opinion on the challenges posed by aging for each country and for the respondents personally. Trends in the aging of the global population, the US population, and the populations in twenty-two other selected countries are also examined.

  • Shrestha, Laura B., and Elayne J. Heisler. 2011. The changing demographic profile of the United States. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

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    This report highlights changing US demographics and provides examples of how changes will affect the nation over time. Issues of work, retirement, and pensions; private wealth and income security; the federal budget and intergenerational equity; health, health care, and health spending; and the well-being of the aging population are examined.

  • UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division 2013. World population ageing 2013. New York; United Nations.

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    This comprehensive report, fourth in a series, provides descriptions of global trends in population aging. The report is organized into five major chapters, focusing on demographic determinants and speed of population aging, changing balance among aging groups, demographic profile of older populations, characteristics of older populations, and intergenerational transfers and well-being in old age.

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