Ageing trends go global

The ageing population is increasing at an unprecedented rate. If the phenomenon only affected developed economies in the past, now it has a worldwide effect. Pensions, health costs, lower economic growth ... Through a weekly series of graphics, will help explain this global phenomenon and its many implications.

This content was published on July 8, 2016 minutes

The Swiss population is one of the oldest on the planet. But even Switzerland has notably been surpassed in this regard by nations such as Germany, Italy and Japan. 

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Even if it is well known that people are living longer than before, understanding how this transformation occurred during the past century is more complex. The animated graphic below illustrates these profound changes. In 1860, there were 12 Swiss aged 20 to 64 years old for every person aged 65 and over. Today, this ratio is only 3.4:1.

Life expectancy

The life expectancy of the Swiss is among the highest in the world. According to the latest estimates by the World Health Organization, Swiss men are world champions in the lifespan stakes. Boys born in 2015 can expect to live up to 81.3 years on average. But around the world it is women who live the longer and the Swiss women are no exception with a life expectancy of 85.3 years.

Globally, life expectancy has increased since 1960, with a 19 additional years of life added since then – a hike of 36%. The graph below highlights the small difference among developed countries as well as the tragic consequences of conflicts on life expectancy.

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Contrary to popular belief, it is the drop in fertility rate, not the increase in life expectancy, that explains an ageing population. The global fertility rate has more than halved since 1960 – falling from an average of five births down to two per woman. During the same period, life expectancy has increased by 36%.

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Several theories have been proposed to explain the decline in fertility rates: urbanisation, empowerment of women, rise in education costs. For almost a century several governmentsExternal link have introduced measures aimed at increasing birth rates but without much success.

During the baby boom years the Swiss fertility rate rose to 2.5 compared to a mere 1.5 currently. Like many European and east Asian countries this rate is below the population replacement level. In other words, the population of these countries are contracting. In Switzerland this contraction is offset – some would say more than necessary – by immigration. According to current estimates, the global fertility rate will fall below the population replacement level by 2050.

Going global

Society is ageing, life expectancies are rising, and premature death is less likely. These trends are expected to continue and become global. The Federal Statistical Office expects the number of retired people in Switzerland to increase by 50% by 2045.

In its 2014 report, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Europe (OECD) warned: “As the population gets older and immigration slows, economic policy must put greater focus on measures to increase productivity, to make better use of under-used labour resources, in particular women, and to continue to improve the integration of first and second-generation immigrants.”

The Swiss workplace, however, remains extremely unequal. The magazine The Economist ranked Switzerland as the worst place in Europe to work in a recent study. It pointed to a penury of childcare places and the high costs of nurseries – Swiss crèches are considered the most expensive in the world. Maternity leave and the wage gap between men and women are also said to be the most discriminatory in Europe.

In recent years, Swiss voters have been asked to limit the number of foreigners in a number of national initiatives. Statistically, there is a higher percentage of foreign residents in Switzerland of working age than of Swiss citizens, as the graphic below shows.

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Do you think that life expectancy in your country has reached its upper limit?

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