En español | With birthrates falling and people living longer, Latin America is facing an “aging revolution” that could find its leaders woefully unprepared, says World Bank economist Daniel Cotlear. The populations of Argentina, Chile, Cuba and Uruguay are aging the fastest, but the rest of Latin America isn’t far behind, says the native of Peru. And despite their burgeoning numbers, he adds, too many Latin Americans have no retirement plans.
After Chile overhauled its pension system in the 1980s, many of its neighbors followed suit. But that experiment — which abandoned government–run retirement systems for highly regulated 401(k)-type plans — failed to increase the number of Latin Americans with pensions. In fact, fewer than half of the workers in countries that followed Chile’s lead are covered by pensions, according to a recent report by Cotlear.
Some nations, including Mexico, offer their pensionless older citizens modest cash payments, but many older Latinos continue to work to support themselves. More than 40 percent of Latin America’s over-60 population is still in the workforce, according to the World Bank report. Many in Latin America also are kept out of poverty by remittances from family members abroad.
To combat Latin America’s aging revolution, the World Bank report recommends building stronger health systems, increasing the retirement age, finding better ways to steer people into pensions and creating more jobs for women. Women, Cotlear says, are less likely to be in the workforce and therefore have no access to workplace pensions.
But addressing the needs of an aging population may not be a priority for Latin leaders, who are facing more immediate problems, says Riordan Roett, director of the Latin American Studies Program at The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. “They don’t have the money [and] they don’t have the political will to do anything now,” said Roett at a recent conference on aging in Latin America cosponsored by AARP and the Rand Corporation. “I see a crisis policymakers aren’t focusing on much.”