Extended Essay: The aging population

Introduction

The rapid growth of the aging population is a global phenomenon. According to the data, the number of people over the age of 65 in the world has greatly exceeded that of children under 5-year-old (Yilmaz, 2021). At the same time, the population over 80-year-old is expected to triple, for instance, up to 426 million in 2050. Experts predicted that by 2050, residents over the age of 65 in Europe and North America might account for nearly a quarter of the total population. Similarly, people over 65-year-old might increase from 9% in 2019 to 16% in 2050.

The increased aging population will significantly impact social and economic development worldwide (Sander, Jespersen, Krasnik, Mortensen, Westendorp & Rasmussen, 2015). The functioning may drop while growing old, the cognitive capacity, intelligence, and labor strength will gradually descend with the severe aging population. The risk of health and social labor shortages caused by the imbalances of increased mortality and falling birth rates may last for a long time (Sander, Jespersen, Krasnik, Mortensen, Westendorp & Rasmussen, 2015).

 Therefore, this essay will analyze the causes and effects of the aging population from multiple perspectives by comparing two countries, to be specific, Italy and China. Besides, in addition to summarizing China’s existing policies on delaying the retirement age and encouraging childbirth, this essay will also identify and evaluate other potential solutions to the aging population problem in these two countries.   

Causes and Effects of Aging Population

The most important cause of population aging is the declining birth rate. Then, there are many older people than young adults in many countries. The increased aging population will have a significant impact on various perspectives. For example, population aging causes irreversible effects on economic growth, which may reduce the productivity and supply of labor force and the potential investment (Yilmaz, 2021). This section will address the social and psychological effects of aging in Italy and China.

On the one hand, from the social perspective, the phenomenon of the aging population will bring a huge burden to the social, medical system and the supply of treatment services. It also leads to hidden labor shortages in the medical field. In an aging society, health and health care are strongly related to the growth of the economy, which means that the sharp increase in the number of older people and the shortage of youth labor force may bring more challenges to medical supply (Sander, Jespersen, Krasnik, Mortensen, Westendorp & Rasmussen, 2015). According to the Italian health department statistics, the national medical expenditure of Italy is about 9.2% of the country’s total GDP, which is similar to the average level in other countries (Reynaud & Miccoli, 2019). In order to improve people’s economic and social well-being, Italy and many European countries are trying to reduce national health spending. However, with the further development of population aging and the increase of life expectancy in Italy, medical expenditure is also increasing. The reason is that the average life expectancy in Italy is 82.3 years, of which the elderly over 65 have a high probability of chronic diseases. Health care and medical support for the elderly have increased spending. Similarly, the increase in the number of older people in China has increased the national financial expenditure on medical care (Li, Chen, Han & Zhang, 2020). Both of these two countries are facing the challenge of expanding the medical team and more medical care for the elderly On the other hand, from the psychological perspective, population aging brought more stress and anxiety to the population, leading to different degrees of mental and psychological harm to the older. Specifically, the life satisfaction of older people aged more than 65-year-old might be affected by their mental health problems when facing death and human issues. A previous study shows that many older populations suffer from anxiety disorders, stress, panic, and depression (Sander, Jespersen, Krasnik, Mortensen, Westendorp & Rasmussen, 2015). Pinquart (2001) did a meta-analysis and found a strong positive correlation between human well-being, physical health, functioning, and mental health. Specifically, when residents have a more positive and good self-assessment of their health, they are less likely to suffer depression. However, in the survey of the aging population, it is found that as the cognitive ability of the elderly decreases, they may be more likely to feel anxiety and depression. Therefore, in an aging society, in addition to physical health, we should pay more attention to the mentality and quality of life of the elderly.

Compared with Italy, the elderly in China experienced psychological problems because of the impact of population aging. In China, as Xiao and other scholars (2016) found that more and more people are facing more remarkable survival and work anxiety in Shanghai since the problem of population aging is serious. Every young person needs to support four or more older people. At the same time, the elderly also have economic anxiety. Besides, Feng, Wang, and Zeng (2018) demonstrated similar findings in China. In contrast, few studies on the association between the aging population and psychological disease. However, a survey of 29 centenarians and nonagenarians in the Southern Area of Italy presented that it was important to pay more attention to the mental health of the aging population (Scelzo, Antonini, Montross, Schork, Brenner& Jeste, 2018). Because of loneliness, illness, and other factors, older people may experience more anxiety, social withdrawal, and psychological problems. Reduced satisfaction with the quality of life may also further increase the risk of mental illness and depression in the elderly. Therefore, many older people in society need more psychological care, which also poses a challenge for further developing the national psychotherapy medical system.

Potential Solutions and Evaluation

To decrease the negative impacts of the aging population, China has taken three significant measures: abolishing the one-child policy, delaying the retirement age, and improving welfare policy. Firstly, the Chinese government gradually open the two-child and three-child policies to encourage childbirth, which may help to improve the continuous deterioration of population aging (Li, Chen, Han & Zhang, 2020). Secondly, the Chinese government announced postponing the retirement age in China (Feng, Wang & Zeng, 2018). Thirdly, they tried to improve the residents’ welfare security system, such as medical insurance, medical resources, and other welfare systems. However, these measures are still in the experimental stage, and the effect is unknown. Facing the problems and challenges of population aging, all countries actively seek practical solutions. In addition to these measures, there are still potential measurements, for example, education. Education has a defending impact on functioning and health condition transition. Older persons with higher levels of education come up with lower mortality rates and higher rates of recovery from functional disabilities. According to Sorensen et al. (2015), people with years of education are less likely to suffer from partial physical disability than their peers. At the same time, another study found that residents’ physical health and self-satisfaction also increased (Kathleen et al., 2006). The daily self-care and living ability of the elderly is an essential indicator of physical fitness. These abilities will gradually weaken with age, such as grooming, bathing, moving, walking, feeding, dressing, and using the toilet. However, some data also found that with the increase of the number of years of education of the elderly, the decline of their living ability may slow down. Higher education can improve people’s knowledge level, cognition, and productivity (Slowey & Zubrzycki, 2020). For example, educated older people are more likely to better allocate resources about health and adopt healthy lifestyles, such as regular exercise and balanced eating habits. With a better understanding of health knowledge, the functional health status of the elderly will be improved. Therefore, the popularization of higher education can imperceptibly help the country’s elderly care in the future.

Continuing education may alleviate the difficulties of the elderly population; however, there is also a labor shortage in the education industry because of the significant increase of the elderly population and the decrease of the birth population. From the perspective of human capital development, many studies have emphasized the importance of education for talent development and training. For example, Peter (2015) believes that educated workers can better adapt to rapidly updated technologies and better meet the needs of enterprises. At present, professional knowledge is a necessary skill for the labor force. With the continuous decline of the birth rate and the substantial increase of the elderly population, there will be a shortage of young labor force. Because of the labor force shortage, many older people have to continue to work. In order to alleviate this problem, many countries have begun to try to attract young and middle-aged immigrants to lessen the pressure of various industries. At the same time, the salary of retirees is lower than that of employees, which may put pressure on education, government funding, infrastructure, and health care. As the age of the population and the cost of healthcare rises, the demand for graduates with qualifications and skills related to diseases will increase, but a low birth rate will lead to a personnel gap. These are the government’s problems that urgently need to solve in an aging society.

Conclusion  

In summary, this essay analyses the cause and effects of the aging population by comparing Italy and China from a social and psychological perspective. Then, it listed the current policies on improving the aging situation, such as postponing the retirement age, open two-child, and three-child policy. Finally, this essay provided a potential solution that did not mention in the literature from the educational perspective. Population aging is a global problem. We need to pay more attention and offer more feasible solutions in the future.

References

Yilmaz, B. (2021). Handbook of Research on Economic and Social Impacts of Population Aging. Information Science Reference.

Scelzo, Di S., Antonini, P., Montross, L. P., Schork, N., Brenner, D., & Jeste, D. V. (2018). Mixed-methods quantitative–qualitative study of 29 nonagenarians and centenarians in rural Southern Italy: focus on positive psychological traits. International Psychogeriatrics, 30(1), 31–38.

Sander, O., B., Jespersen, A., Krasnik, A., Mortensen, E. L., Westendorp, R. G. J., & Rasmussen, L. J. (2015). The challenges of human population ageing. Age and Ageing, 44(2), 185–187.

Reynaud, & Miccoli, S. (2019). Population ageing in Italy after the 2008 economic crisis: A demographic approach. Futures: the Journal of Policy, Planning and Futures Studies, 105, 17–26.

Feng, Yeung, W.-J. J., Wang, Z., & Zeng, Y. (2018). Age of Retirement and Human Capital in an Aging China, 2015–2050. European Journal of Population, 35(1), 29–62.

Li, Chen, X., Han, X., & Zhang, G. (2020). Spatiotemporal matching between medical resources and population ageing in China from 2008 to 2017. BMC Public Health, 20(1), 1–845.

Xiao, Lewis, et al. (2016). The China longitudinal ageing study: overview of the demographic, psychosocial and cognitive data of the Shanghai sample. Journal of Mental Health (Abingdon, England), 25(2), 131–136.

Slowey, Schuetze, H. G., & Zubrzycki, T. (2020). Inequality, Innovation and Reform in Higher Education: Challenges of Migration and Ageing Populations.

Peter C. Fisk. (2015). A more highly educated labor force makes everyone better off, right? Monthly Labor Review, A1.

Pinquart. (2001). Correlates of Subjective Health in Older Adults. Psychology and Aging, 16(3), 414–426.

Kathleen Figaro, et al. (2006). Diabetes, inflammation, and functional decline in older adults : Findings from the health, aging and body composition (ABC) study. Diabetes Care, 29(9), 2039–2045. Sorensen, Pelikan, J. et al. (2015). Health literacy in Europe: comparative results of the European health literacy survey (HLS-EU). European Journal of Public Health, 25(6), 1053–1058.

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