Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 3 » Latin America - Demographic Background, Literacy, Living Arrangements, Economic Activity And Retirement, Pension Policy

Latin America - Demographic Background

age aging physician social age population percent health

The Latin American population's median age is expected to rise from 23.2 years in 2000 to 33.4 years in 2030, according to recent United Nations medium-variant projections. This is a result of dramatic declines in both mortality and fertility, and, in the short term, of the high fertility and decline of childhood mortality of 1950–1965. In 1950 life expectancy at birth was only fifty-one years, and the infant mortality rate was about 125 per 1000. By 2000 comparable figures were seventy years' life expectancy and 40 per 1000 infant mortality. By 2030 life expectancy is predicted to rise to seventy-six years, and the infant mortality rate to fall to 20 per 1000. In 1950 the total fertility rate was almost six children per woman. In 2000 it was less than three, and by 2030 it is expected to be only 2.2.

The dramatic aging of Latin America's population is occurring much faster than in the United States or western Europe. Whereas it took approximately eighty-four years for Sweden's sixty-five-plus age group to grow from 7 percent to 14 percent of the population, it will probably take only twenty years for the same change to occur in Latin America.

At present Latin America's sixty-plus age group is growing at 3 percent per year, whereas the under-fifteen age group is growing at only 0.08 percent per year. The eighty years and over age group is growing fastest of all, at over 4 percent a year. This latter group is predominantly female. Whereas slightly more males than females are born, projections suggest that by 2025 two-thirds of the population older than age seventy-five will be female.

In Mexico City, Mexico, an elderly man leaves the voting booth after casting his ballot in the Mexican national election on July 2, 2000. (Corbis/Reuters NewMedia photo by Jorge Silva.)

While life expectancy as a whole is rising, many people suffer from poor health in old age. The health of a population group is difficult to quantify. The best information at present is in terms of self-rated health, information supplied by survey respondents regarding their own general health. Many elderly Latin Americans rate their health as poor or fair, levels similar to African-American elders in the United States and much worse than white elders in the United States. Disability among elderly women, compared with elderly men in particular, is high in parts of Latin America. People who survived childhood diseases, and thus became part of the reduction in childhood mortality, carry their weakened condition into old age. Such people live, but do they live well? People everywhere are asking whether longer life means living longer in a healthy state or living longer in a disabled state. For Latin America in particular, the Pan American Health Organization is in the process of gathering information on health-related factors of the elderly population in a number of urban areas.

Generalizations are not meant to neglect the fact that the region's countries are highly diverse. Demographically one can see rather mature countries such as Argentina, in which 13.5 percent of the population was age sixty and over in 2000, and rather young countries such as nearby Bolivia, in which only 6.2 percent of the population was age sixty and over in 2000 (see Table 1).

The proportion of elderly is related not only to factors such as life expectancy at birth, infant mortality, and fertility but also to such social and economic factors as level of urbanization, per capita GNP, number of inhabitants per physician, school enrollment rates, literacy, economic activity, and pensions. When there are higher proportions of elders in the country, there tend to be higher levels of these social and economic factors as well. Let us take literacy, the ability to read and write, as an example.

Latin America - Literacy [next]

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