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Population and Global Aging

An Address to the International Conference on Population and Development

Susanne Paul, Global Action on Aging

Cairo, September 1994

Distinguished Delegates.

As you meet here to consider means to reduce fertility, please remember that a major concern of young couples in their reproductive decisions is security in old age. Couples are more likely to opt for smaller families if societies provide adequately for older people. An investment in a decent life for older citizens is a population investment, too.

Second, as you consider the well-being and good health of young children and of mothers, please do not forget that older persons are important care-givers and household helpers in the majority of families in today's world.

We often hear the argument that growing numbers of older persons are taking scarce resources away from children--that these two "dependent" groups are locked in a battle for limited places in the social lifeboat. This grim view must be rejected. Older people have much to contribute to social development, not least to the well-being of children and families. If older citizens have opportunities to work, rather than be denied work because of their age, most can earn their own livelihood. We must reject theories of social triage, and instead discover new ways to increase the well-being of all, throughout the full length of the life course.

Third, we must speak out against the pain and suffering inflicted by the Bretton Woods Institutions through their so-called "Structural Adjustment Programs," "shock therapies," and other dogmatic applications of economic theory without regard to human consequences. These programs have harmed older people ... as well as mothers, children and families. They have stripped older people of their hard-earned pensions and taken away social services. They have greatly set back our efforts to advance human development and sustainable growth. It is time that we said: "Enough!"

In the years to come, population aging will more and more take center stage, as population growth slows and stabilizes around the world. Let us celebrate this great human victory of long life over early death, of choice over chance. Join me in calling for expanded programs at UNFPA and other UN agencies on aging issues. Let us be bold and found a new UN specialized agency on aging, a step that is long overdue. Together, let us construct a new global society that affirms the dignity of every human being, in childhood, in youth, in middle years and in later life.