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This week the US census bureau announced that, within 10 years and for the first time in history, old people will outnumber young people across the globe.
And yet whenever this demographic shift comes up, it is presented in terms of a crisis on one hand and a burden on the other. The rise in the number of the old (and, according to this report, the "oldest old", classified as the over-80s) is a massive human success story:
Life expectancy increases because of better education, greater wealth, lower infant mortality, better healthcare, less disease, the reduction of armed conflict, and the development of technology and its application in pursuit of good.
It is, frankly, insane to look at an ageing population and not rejoice. Why do we even have a concept of public health, of co-operation, of sharing knowledge, if not to extend life, wherever we find it?
The problem, then, is not age as such but the proportion of the aged: not only will the old outnumber the young globally but in 11 major nations, the population is ageing while its numbers simultaneously decline – an unprecedented combination.
Our ageing world, in other words, is brilliant news. This is what we have been working towards for as long as the concept of working towards anything has existed.Zoe Williams-GuardianWednesday 22 July 2009 22.30 BST