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By Gaziza Moldakulova, National Coordinator on Population, Development and Gender at UNFPA Kazakhstan


Global view on ageing


The UN Secretary-General has identified demographic change as one of five mega-trends that are shaping our common future. All countries experience demographic change in one way or another: as continued population growth in some parts of the world, and population ageing and population decline in others, as well as accelerating migration and urbanization.


The pace of the ageing process of the world's population is unprecedented in the history of humankind and is set to be a long term change. The population ages when the percentage of older people grows. The reasons for the ageing are a decrease in the birth rate and an increase in the life expectancy of older age groups.


Increasing life expectancy is one of the greatest achievements of humankind due to better nutrition, medical advances, health care, education and economic well-being. Life expectancy at birth has increased significantly across the world.

It is assumed that those born in 2045-2050 will live up to 83 years in developed and up to 74 years in developing regions of the world. Life expectancy at birth is now over 80 years in 33 countries. Five years ago such indicators were in only 19 countries. In Japan, older people make up over 30% of the population; 64 countries are expected to be added to the number of the countries where older people make up more than 30% of the population by 2050.[1]


The steady increase in the proportion of older age groups in the composition of the population of countries, both in absolute terms and in relation to the population of working age, affects the principles of justice and solidarity between and within generations that underlie any society.[2]



What is the situation in Kazakhstan?


The demographic situation in Kazakhstan is characterized by an increase in the proportion of elderly people in the age structure of the country's population (at the beginning of 2019, the proportion of the population over the age of 60 was 11.6% of the total population of the country, at the age of 65 and over - 7.5%)[3] and the country is in the early stages of demographic aging[4]. At the same time, in half of the country's regions the 7% threshold, characteristic of an ageing nation, has already been significantly exceeded.


 So, in the north-east of the country and in part of central Kazakhstan, the situation is similar to that in Europe. This is due to the insignificant natural population growth and emigration. And in the southern and western regions of the republic, as well as in the city of Nur-Sultan, an increase in the birth rate is observed, as a result of which these indicators are lower[5].


Due to the existing differences in life expectancy between men and women, the disparity in the size of the male and female population increases, especially in old age. Worldwide, women make up the majority of older people, including in Kazakhstan. For every 100 women aged 60 and over, there are only 62 men of this age group. Demographic resilience, as a concept, emphasizes the importance of population dynamics for socio-economic development and individual well-being, as well as for political stability and security. Demographically resilient societies understand and anticipate the population dynamics they are experiencing. They have the skills, tools, political will and public support to manage them so that they can mitigate potentially negative effects for individuals, societies, economies and the environment, and harness the opportunities that come with demographic change for people, prosperity and the planet.


Although today Kazakhstan is a relatively young nation, it is necessary to think in advance about the trends and consequences generated by the ageing of the population. According to estimate calculations, the proportion of elderly people aged 65 and over, amounting to 7.3%, will grow and by 2050 will almost double, reaching the values ​​that were observed in Japan in the 1990s or in Sweden in the 1970s. A new stage in the transformation of the age structure is being observed in the country. At the same time, the demographic burden of older people (i.e., the ratio of their number to the population of working age) will increase 1.8 times, from 20.8% in 2019 to 37.8% in 2050[6]. Naturally, this structural transformation of the population will affect the socio-economic development of the country, which should be taken into account in the country's development plans.



Changes faced by “ageing” nations


 The ageing process has a major impact on all aspects of human life: economy, savings, investment and consumption, labour market, pensions, taxation and inter-generational transfers. In the social sphere, this affects people’s health, family composition, lifestyle, housing conditions and migration.


Differences in employment and income between men and women widen the gender gap in pension coverage, increasing the risk of poverty for older women. The problem of employment in the sphere of social production, adequate wages for women, the creation of conditions for reducing gender differences in pension savings of men and women, as well as economic and social support for the elderly are tasks that must be solved when developing state programs in the field of economic and social development of the country.


Kazakhstan is just beginning to enter the group of countries with a predominance of the elderly population and the resulting problems in the future should lead to the development of those industries that are directly related to the service of old age. This will largely affect health care. Health problems of the elderly are the causes of disability and mortality. Diseases of the circulatory system, the musculoskeletal system, the digestive system, the respiratory system, the eyes and the associated organs prevail in the structure of chronic pathology.


High morbidity rates of the population over 60 years old determine the high level of visits by elderly people to outpatient clinics - they are twice more likely than others to visit these institutions. Taking into account the peculiarities of diseases in old age, it is necessary to increase the number of such doctors as gerontologists, therapists and other specialists. This aspect must be taken into account when determining the priorities for the development of the healthcare system and education in the republic.


One of the main areas for building the infrastructure necessary for older people is the development of a system of services for employees of local organizations serving the elderly and lonely people. At the same time, affordable housing and suitable modes of transportation that enable people to continue to live in their own homes are absolutely essential to maintain older people’s independence. These factors facilitate social contact and allow older people to remain active members of society.



Active ageing and demographic resilience


The ageing process of the population presents new social, economic and cultural challenges for the country. At the same time, it creates new opportunities for improving the lives of people of all ages. The UN and the European Commission jointly developed the Active Ageing Index (also known as the AAI), which measures the levels of autonomous life of older citizens, their participation in paid employment and social activities, and their ability to lead an active life. UNFPA in Kazakhstan is also providing technical support to the government in collecting data to assess the situation of older people and the data needed to calculate the AAI indicators. To do this in 2020 UNFPA supported a national survey to assess the socio-economic situation and needs of older people (also in the context of COVID-19) with additional questions to obtain data for calculating the AAI and to provide data for subsequent monitoring of the implementation of the action plan “Active longevity” to improve the lives of older people in Kazakhstan.


Health status of people of pre-retirement and retirement ages, as well as low incomes of older people (except for highly qualified specialists in the areas of management, finance, healthcare, education and science) are the main barriers to the development of active longevity in Kazakhstan. A policy in the field of active ageing should be aimed at improving the quality of life and independence in older ages, increasing a healthy life expectancy of people, maintaining and strengthening health, improving the social and psychological well-being of older citizens, expanding opportunities at older age to participate in various areas of social life and in the socio-economic development of the country.


A holistic approach is needed to tackle the challenges of population ageing. However, this will not be possible without a comprehensive concept of national policy for older persons. Such policies should combine political, legal, economic, medical, social, research, cultural and information measures aimed at improving the standard and quality of life of older people, strengthening social solidarity and creating a new attitude towards ageing as part of the life cycle. In addition to government, NGOs, research institutions, professional organizations, the media and business organizations can and should be involved in enhancing the role of older people.


One of the tools for implementing such a policy is Kazakhstan’s 2025 National Action Plan to improve the situation of citizens of the older generation “Active Longevity” and the Action Plan developed on its basis. The data obtained during the national survey to assess the socio-economic situation and needs of older people, carried out with the technical support of UNFPA in Kazakhstan, as well as the results of the AAI calculated for the first time in Kazakhstan (together with the UNECE) will be presented to the Government in November 2020.


Given the particular vulnerability of older people in emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the high risk of infection and more severe disease and complications, as well as the deteriorating socio-economic situation in conditions of forced isolation, special attention should be paid to issues of support to older people and developing measures to provide them with the necessary facilities and services to protect their health and well-being.



What is needed to achieve demographic resilience?


To achieve demographic resilience one should be able to predict demographic shifts, understand their implications and develop policy responses that are based on evidence and human rights. It means moving beyond narrow quick-fix approaches focused on population numbers towards comprehensive population and social policies aimed at ensuring prosperity and well-being for all.


As such, how Kazakhstan will manage this demographic shift will help determine the progress it will make towards Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. How it will manage will influence the collective efforts to reduce poverty and inequality; respond to crises, as exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic; ensure decent work and social protection; provide universal health coverage and primary and secondary education; empower women and young people; promote and protect the rights of older persons; create dynamic economies and protect the environment; and ensure adequate financing for development, among others.


[1] Старение в XXI веке: триумф и вызов. Издание Фонда Организации Объединенных Наций в области народонаселения (ЮНФПА), Нью-Йорк, и организации «Хелпэйдж Интернэшнл», Лондон. 2012.

[2] Population Ageing 1999 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.99.XIII.11) (Старение населения, 1999 год).

[3] Демографический ежегодник Казахстана. Агентство Республики Казахстан по статистике. Нур-Султан. 2019.

[4] По классификации Организации Объединенных Наций, общество, в котором доля населения в возрасте 65 лет и старше составляет 7% и более - относится к стареющему.

[5] Отчёт о выполнении региональной стратегии осуществления Мадридского Международного плана действий по проблемам старения в Республике Казахстан. 2016.


[6] «Анализ положения в области народонаселения в Республике Казахстан». 2019 г. Отчет разработан при технической поддержке Фонда ООН в области народонаселения (ЮНФПА) в Казахстане.