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Even with a brief life expectancy dip, 16% of the global population will be 65+ by 2050

Damien Ng
Damien Ng • 4 min read
Even with a brief life expectancy dip, 16% of the global population will be 65+ by 2050
Photo: Centre for Ageing Better via Unsplash
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The average life expectancy of the world’s three billion inhabitants in 1961 was 53 years. That was against a backdrop of global GDP per capita of around US$500, and then 60 years later, in 2021, the global GDP per capita among the nearly eight billion people rose to US$12,236, with average life expectancy rising to 71 years of age. We are now living longer lives compared to our previous generations, yet World Bank data shows that life expectancy will be shortened by around two years in 2021 compared with 2020.

The findings corroborate recent data by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the expected lifespan of an individual born in the US now hovers around 76.4 years, the shortest in nearly 20 years. Although Covid-19, drug overdoses and accidental injury accounted for nearly two-thirds of this decline in the US, other contributing factors included poverty, food insecurity and compromised access to healthcare services.

In 2023, global average life expectancy bounced back — according to the United Nations, life expectancy for Singapore has risen from 83.93 years in 2022 to 84.07 years in 2023, compared to Malaysia, where it was 76.51 in 2022 and is now 76.65 in 2023. In China, it has also risen from 77.3 years in 2022 to 77.47 years in 2023. Japan, one of the highest worldwide, has risen from 84.91 years in 2022 to 85.03 years this year.

Population ageing can be ascribed to extended longevity over the longer term thanks to more effective investments in primary care, health promotion and disease prevention efforts. The global health crisis raised greater awareness about the importance of adopting a healthier lifestyle by eating a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, managing stress and anxiety and early financial planning, all of which can optimise our longevity.

Getting the essential vitamins

See also: Singaporeans are questioning: can I retire comfortably?

Good nutrition, with essential vitamins and minerals, helps to prevent the onset of age-related health conditions, from dementia and weight gain to cancer and diabetes. Studies revealed that the risk of developing colorectal cancer is heightened by 12% with the daily consumption of 100 grams of red meat and by 16% with 50 grams of processed meat. Since a growing body of evidence suggests that the cumulative effects of a diet with good nutrition adopted early in life can extend our lives, we should start healthy dietary practices as early as possible. Also, due to the heightened risk of mortality and physical decline, malnutrition is a particularly challenging health concern facing the geriatric population.

Studies revealed a higher risk of frailty in older adults due to a lower intake of vitamins like B12, C, D and calcium. Vitamin deficiencies severely impact healthy ageing among older adults, and the prevalence of malnutrition tends to increase with age due to the growing inability to digest nutrients in food, alongside the fact that some medications may inhibit the process.

A lack of vitamins affects not only older people; a study shows that 40% of Singaporeans are deficient in vitamin D, despite living in a sunny country.

See also: Millennials more prepared for retirement than their older peers: Prudential Singapore

Prudent financial planning

It is not uncommon for older people heading into their retirement years to express regret about their early life financial decisions that have left them susceptible to monetary insecurity. A recent survey by the University of Pennsylvania showed that nearly 60% of the 1,764 US respondents aged 50+ had regrets about not saving enough due to their day-to-day living and not having a proper financial plan in their earlier years. The most common regrets were: Not having purchased longevity insurance in cases where they outlive their life expectancy (40%), quitting a job too early (37%), and not delaying social security claims (23%).

A recent survey conducted by The Endowus Singapore Retirement Report revealed that 42% of Singaporeans in 2022 were concerned about their financial adequacy for their retirement, 5% higher than the previous year.

Misjudged perceptions of longevity, and the mistaken belief that pension funds will always outlive one’s life expectancy, have emerged as key reasons behind people’s financial decisions in their younger years.

With a world home to increasingly older adults and populations with longer lifespans, the ‘Extended Longevity’ theme continues to be attractive, presenting long-term investment opportunities in food and nutrition and financial planning against the inevitable megatrend of population ageing — a reality that cannot be cast aside.

Dr Damien Ng is a thematic research analyst with Julius Baer

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