GTFS: Global Trends and Future Scenarios Index

Population Aging: Is Latin America Ready?


The past half-century has seen enormous changes in the demographic makeup of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). In the 1950s, LAC had a small population of about 160 million people, less than today’s population of Brazil. Two-thirds of Latin Americans lived in rural areas. Families were large and women had one of the highest fertility rates in the world, low levels of education, and few opportunities for work outside the household. Investments in health and education reached only a small fraction of the children, many of whom died before reaching age five. Since then, the size of the LAC population has tripled and the mostly rural population has been transformed into a largely urban population. There have been steep reductions in child mortality, and investments in health and education have increased, today reaching a majority of children. Fertility has been more than halved and the opportunities for women in education and for work outside the household have improved significantly. Life expectancy has grown by 22 years. Less obvious to the casual observer, but of significance for policy makers, a population with a large fraction of dependent children has evolved into a population with fewer dependents and a very large proportion of working-age adults. This overview seeks to introduce the reader to three groups of issues related to population aging in LAC. First is a group of issues related to the support of the aging and poverty in the life cycle. Second is the question of the health transition. Third is an understanding of the fiscal pressures that are likely to accompany population aging and to disentangle the role of demography from the role of policy in that process.