As life expectancy increases, the conditions which decrease the number of good life years of the older population today will become even greater in the future. How can we prepare for the realities of demographic aging?
Today, the number of older adults in Europe is 16.6 million, and this number is projected to rise by 15% in the next 30 years. Our recent study has shown that this older population is losing good years of life to a range of adverse life conditions such as loneliness, depression and various diseases. In addition to these decreases in quality of life on an individual level, low levels of wellbeing in later life also spill over onto partners and family members and increase public spending and healthcare costs for society. This study has illuminated an urgent need to protect the quality of life of older adults, which will only become more urgent in the years to come. These already substantial wellbeing burdens are likely to become even greater in the future if we do not sufficiently prepare for the realities of demographic aging.
Population growth creates more good life years, and at the same time takes them away
Life expectancy is on the rise, and this growth is especially pronounced in the oldest cohort – over-85s. By 2050, there will be more adults living longer than ever before. Based on our knowledge of the wellbeing burdens already faced by the older population, it can therefore be expected that more of them will experience adverse life conditions in the coming years. Our analysis concludes that loneliness, depression, and financial distress will likely continue to be the predominant wellbeing burdens facing older adults over the next thirty years. On the basis of population growth alone, by 2050, the societal burden of severe loneliness is expected to grow by 40%, moderate loneliness and depression by 21%, and financial distress by 16%.
“To ensure that fewer people languish, mental health and loneliness should be given as much priority and attention as physical health problems have historically been given.” - Vibeke Koushede Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology University of Copenhagen
Our opinion: navigating a complex future requires a measure of societal welfare
Further investigation into the interacting dynamics of wellbeing burdens and population growth add additional research into experimental and holistic solutions may help decision-makers to lay the groundwork for stronger and more resilient societies in the future. We hope that the results of this report, and the utilization of WALYs as a new measure of social welfare, can help politicians and decision-makers to better navigate a complex future. In the final section of our newest report, Long and Happy Lives, we offer recommendations for researchers and policymakers to begin focusing on in an effort to build future societies conducive to wellbeing. By taking these steps, we can work towards creating future societies that are not only more resilient to the challenges of demographic aging, but can also support better lives for all.
About the study
Long and Happy Lives: The Future of Wellbeing in an Aging Society is a cross-national study based on data on more than 115,000 respondents from 18 European countries. It is authored by Michael Birkjær and Micah Kaats from The Happiness Research Institute. The report is commissioned by DaneAge (A Danish not-for-profit organization with more than 900,000 members).