Ageing and life course

Global financial crisis and the health of older people

©HelpAge International

Previous economic downturns have created significant adverse health consequences in society: increases in unemployment, the deterioration of safety nets for social protection, the erosion of savings and pension funds, and reductions in health and social spending, all create conditions for ill-health. Adverse health outcomes include increases in depression, anxiety, the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a general neglect of overall health. The current global financial crisis is likely to have similar results in both the developed and developing world.

The impact of an economic crisis may be particularly acute for older people, particularly those who are physically vulnerable, living in poverty and/or dependent on private pensions. In addition, older people may be at greater risk of losing their jobs and less likely to be retrained and re-employed. Regions where public health care is lacking, families may forgo urgent health care of older adults, instead, choosing to allocate their scarce resources towards food or education for younger family members.

The current challenge is to prevent the economic crisis from becoming a social and health crisis for older people. It is crucial that investment in the social and health sectors and in human capital be maintained. Government responses should include mechanisms to support participation of older people in the workforce.

The crisis also presents a unique political opportunity to put in place innovative new mechanisms for older people to contribute as productive members of society, for example, by creating the conditions for flexible workforce participation such as allowing people to collect social pensions while at the same time working part-time. Current political decisions will determine whether the crisis leaves a long-term legacy of increased numbers of older people in poverty and isolation, or sustainable changes that strengthen social protection and health care and facilitate the participation of older persons in communities.

Finally, we need to counter the perception that as people enter later life, they become an economic burden for society, one that is shouldered by the younger generation. Traditional economic models, such as "dependency ratios", serve to perpetuate perceptions of intergenerational competition rather than intergenerational solidarity, whereby there is an mutual exchange and contribution among the generations. Such positive relationships are more likely to be fostered where social and physical environments support the engagement of older people in society.

Economic impact of HIV/AIDS on older persons

The economic impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on older persons has been devastating. In Africa, where older people have taken on the role of caregiver for their HIV-infected relatives and for their orphaned grand-children, expenses such as healthcare, schools fees and burial costs represents a huge financial burden. For example, in Mozambique in 2006, an older person on average had an average monthly income of just US$12 yet the cost of caring for someone with HIV was approximately US$30 a month. Such economic burden comes at a time in life when one's earning potential is significantly reduced due in part to the physical challenges of ageing, as well as age discrimination.

Perhaps most importantly, skipped generation households, where older people have to take responsibility for grandchildren orphaned by HIV/AIDS, are significantly poorer that other households. This places children in these households in even greater disadvantage than their peers in low-income countries.