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The New Old World: Challenges and Opportunities of Aging Populations

William D. Novelli
Executive Director and CEO

Good morning and welcome to this important program – looking at the challenges and opportunities of aging populations. I thank you all for coming, and I want to thank our speakers for sharing their thoughts with us.

I especially want to thank Lee Hamilton, President and Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, for his leadership and commitment to highlighting the importance of global aging.

E.M. Forster called aging that "seductive combination of increased wisdom and decaying powers to which too little intelligence is devoted." By joining with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to sponsor this conference – and inviting all of you here to participate – we hope to remedy that.

This is the first of three programs we are convening jointly with the Woodrow Wilson Center: In July, we will explore the Politics of Aging, and we will meet again in November to examine international experiences in pension reform.

When I became CEO of AARP almost two years ago, I set forth three great goals worthy of our Association:

  • To be one of the most successful organizations in America for positive social change.
  • To help our members have choices, reach their goals and dreams, and make the most of life after 50.
  • And to be a world leader in global aging.

The first two goals were met with great enthusiasm, but the third one raised more than a few eyebrows. AARP has been involved in international aging issues for a long time. In fact, our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, was a dedicated internationalist.

But, by elevating international aging issues to one of our three goals, many felt I was taking our commitment to a new level. And, I am.

And for good reason. One hundred years ago, the average person in the United States could expect to live to the age of 47. Today, the average life span is 30 years longer.

This "longevity bonus" is now occurring in most parts of the world. Indeed, increased longevity was one of the great success stories of the 20th century, due to the eradication of childhood diseases and improvements in public health, diet and standards of living.

Thanks to the "longevity bonus," the number of older people is increasing rapidly. The older population is increasing much faster than other age groups in the G-7 and other industrialized countries, making it a larger share of the population.

In the US, this trend will accelerate with the baby boomer generation turning 65 – beginning just 8 years from now in 2011. But, trends in fertility and immigration – which differ greatly among countries – also factor heavily into this. In Japan and Italy, for example, low fertility is actually decreasing the numbers as well as the share of younger people.

Worldwide, the number of people aged 65-84 is projected to grow threefold by the year 2050. And some demographers tell us that, by then, older people will outnumber children for the first time in history. This is the demographic seismic shift that we call Global Aging. We can see it now, before our eyes.

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