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Sub-Saharan Africa

The Economic Situation Of Older Africans, The Social Situation Of Older Africans, Vulnerable Elders, Policy And Practical Implications

In Africa south of the Sahara, many older persons (especially women) are illiterate and do not know their birthdate or chronological age. African cultural definitions of old age usually are functional: people are ‘‘old’’ when they lose their strength, and also, for women, when they no longer menstruate or give birth to children. The United Nations defines older persons as those age sixty and over (sixty-plus) though Africans themselves may use different criteria, and people much younger than sixty may consider themselves old.

In a world that is growing older, less-developed countries are aging more slowly than industrial nations, with Africa aging more slowly than any other region. In developed nations, including Europe, Japan, and the United States, the proportion of those age sixty-plus was in the range of 15 to 22 percent in the year 2000, and is expected to reach 25 percent or more in some countries by the year 2025. By contrast, the proportion of those age sixty-plus in most African nations was under 5 percent in the year 2000, and will reach a modest 6 percent by the year 2025. Sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, had a total population of 110 million in 1998, over 5 million (5.2 percent) of whom were age sixty-plus. In the region as a whole, in 2000, there were 32 million older Africans; by 2025 there will be 75 million.

In the year 2000, about two-thirds of older Africans lived in rural areas, where most older people will probably continue to live well into the twenty-first century. Rural areas have weak social services, poor infrastructure, few opportunities to generate income, and heavy out-migration of younger adults seeking employment. This outmigration has serious consequences for older individuals, including loss of male labor on family farms, increased workloads for women and elders, more female-headed households, economic interdependence of migrants and rural family members, disruptions in family relationships, families with households in both rural homelands and urban workplaces, and difficulties of children in meeting filial obligations to aging parents. Nevertheless, most older Africans, in both rural and urban settings, live with family members, usually spouses, children and/or grandchildren, often in multigenerational households. Many of the 3 to 5 percent who live alone probably have kin nearby.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4