Friday, September 13, 2019

The Politics of Latin American Aging

Some remarkable demographic projections from the Pew Research Center. The biggie is that the entire world is expected to experience fertility rates below replacement by 2100. But Latin America is news too: by 2100 it is expected to be the oldest region, a complete turnaround from fairly recent history.
The Latin America and Caribbean region is expected to have the oldest population of any world region by 2100, a reversal from the 20th century. In 1950, the region’s median age was just 20 years. That figure is projected to more than double to 49 years by 2100. 
This pattern is evident when looking at individual countries in the region. For example, in 2020, the median ages of Brazil (33), Argentina (32) and Mexico (29) are all expected to be lower than the median age in the U.S. (38). However, by 2100, all three of these Latin American nations are projected to be older than the U.S. The median age will be 51 in Brazil, 49 in Mexico and 47 in Argentina, compared with a median age of 45 in the U.S. Colombia is expected to undergo a particularly stark transition, with its median age more than tripling between 1965 and 2100 – from 16 to 52.
This is by no means the first time we've heard this basic story. International institutions have already been raising them.

These numbers have important political implications. Most prominently, who will take care of this older population? You need a solid number of younger workers to fund a social safety net, not to mention a well-functioning safety net. That burden will inevitably fall disproportionately on women, which will exacerbate gender inequality. Overall, pressure on pension systems is already a hot political topic, and it will become even worse. And by the way, improvements in health technology will keep people alive longer, so they will need resources for more years than in the past.

This shift will also exacerbate already serious urban-rural divides. Rural areas are historically underserved and ignored. A large older population will require assistance that simply does not exist, and the strain will be tremendous.

The combination of all these factors will lead to more political conflict, as if the region needs more. Chile has experienced serious protests over its pension system. Brazil experienced a general strike about pensions just a few months ago. Colombia faced similar protests. Ecuadorian retirees are protesting about their pensions. Argentina passed reforms two years ago after protests. Mexico is undergoing reforms right now.

If protest are big now, what will they be like when the population is much older and there are fewer younger people to fund those pensions?


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