The Grayest Generation

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Two women cross the tracks of the Gara de Nord railway station, Bucharest's main train station, on Feb. 1, 2008. Romania's economic crisis has prompted the country's government to impose austerity measures, including pension cuts of 15 percent for government workers. As many as 50,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Bucharest in May to protest the plans, which the government says must be enacted if Romania is to receive IMF loans.


Wrecked by war and underdevelopment for the last 30 years, Afghanistan faces myriad demographic problems. On the one hand, it is an extremely young society: 50 percent of Afghans are under age 15, pointing to a dangerous youth bulge in a country without formal institutions or any paths to decent futures (at least 40 percent of the workforce is unemployed). Life expectancy as of 2008, however, was only 44 years. This imbalance has created a dramatic dependency ratio: There are 113 people under 15 or over 60 for every 100 between ages 15 and 59. Here, an elderly Afghan man walks along the street in the city of Bamiyan on Nov. 9, 2009.


Two elderly women wait for their martial arts class to begin in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, in January. By some counts, one in five adult rape victims in Kenya is older than 60 -- one survivor is 105. Intercourse with the elderly is believed by many would-be attackers to bring good luck, purify one's sins, and even cure AIDS. Starting in 2007, a program called I'm Worth Defending has empowered women to fight back by teaching self-defense classes in Nairobi slums.


Chinese women sit together in Chongqing on March 16, 2008. China may be booming economically, but it faces a looming disaster as its massive working-age population gets old. By 2050, there are projected to be almost 440 million Chinese over age 60 and more than 100 million over 80. Less than one-third of workers have a pension, and though the government is working feverishly to create a safety net for the elderly, Chinese leaders are worried about the possibility of social upheaval due to the aging crisis.


China is experimenting with ways to cope with its coming pension crisis, including allowing some private-sector employees in Shanghai to work an additional five years past the mandated retirement age of 60 for men and 55 for women. The government is also trying to enroll rural workers, frequently ignored by state schemes, in pension funds at a young age. An elderly couple talks on a street in Beijing on July 15.


With this year's census likely to find more old people than ever in the United States, there has been something of a backlash against the elderly. Recently, old people -- with their ballooning consumption of health care and Social Security benefits -- have been accused of bankrupting the United States. "Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them," New York Times columnist David Brooks recently lamented. Here, an elderly woman sits along the shore in Brooklyn, a notoriously difficult area for census workers to canvas.


British pensioners, adorning oak sprigs to commemorate Charles II's restoration to the throne, attend the Founder's Day parade at the Royal Hospital Chelsea on June 10 in London. A pension review report commissioned by Britain's coalition government was released Oct. 7, which recommended raising the retirement age to 65 and cutting public-sector pay. Prime Minister David Cameron has advocated for austerity, saying last week, "There is no other responsible way" to get Britain's budget deficit -- currently at 11 percent of GDP -- under control.


Known as gran moun in Haitian Creole, the elderly make up only 3.4 percent of Haiti's population. While all of Port-au-Prince suffered after the earthquake, the old had it especially rough: Forgotten and hungry, many who survived took to begging for food and medicine. Older Haitians play an important role in this struggling country -- with many middle-age Haitians lost to AIDS or working abroad, grandparents are often responsible for much of the child care in Haitian families. Above, an elderly woman walks through a tent village in Pandiassou, Haiti, in January.


A man feeds seagulls in front of the Royal Palace in downtown Stockholm, Sweden, on Jan. 26. With 18 percent of its population over age 65 and the first country to have more than 5 percent over 80, Sweden is one of the oldest countries in the world -- and a model in eldercare. Older people in Sweden are especially independent, thanks to government-funded services such as visiting homemakers and meal deliveries.


Bolivia, unlike many of its Latin American counterparts, is still a young country: Only 4 percent of Bolivians are over 65, and the fertility rate is still well above replacement level at 3.5 children per woman. Here, a woman leaves a polling booth in Tarabuco, during the Dec. 6, 2009, presidential election.


An elderly Russian woman walks through the wildfire-gutted town of Voronezh in August. The archetype of the Russian babushka is well known, for good reason: While male life expectancy in Russia hovers around 60, women -- who are less prone to rampant societal ills such as alcoholism -- live to an average age of 73. This has led to an interesting phenomenon: communities populated entirely by old women. According to the Guardian, there are at least 34,000 Russian villages inhabited by 10 people or fewer, almost all of them old women.


Thirty-six percent of Colombians live on less than $2 a day, and pensions are nowhere near sufficient to cope with the coming glut of seniors. The Colombian government is tackling its aging problem head-on -- the government under former President Álvaro Uribe bumped the retirement age from 60 to 62 for men, and 55 to 60 for women, starting in 2014 -- but it might not be enough to forestall a crisis. Here, an elderly strolls along in Bogotá on May 12.


France is famously known for its 35-hour work week and early retirement, but successive governments have tried to cut these benefits. French President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to hike the retirement age to 62 has been met with massive street resistance, as union leaders have called successive national strikes in attempts to avert the change. Above, elderly women wait for a bus in Paris on June 26.


Elderly Pakistanis had plenty of problems -- limited rural access to health care, terrorists attacking senior citizens -- even before this summer's terrible floods. Now, with an eighth of the Pakistani population significantly affected by the disaster, the disease- and disability-prone elderly are particularly vulnerable. Here, flood victims queue for aid in Sanawan, Punjab province, on Sept. 5.


A family of Penan, a people indigenous to the Malaysian peninsula, spends an afternoon at home in Long Bubui, Sarawak state, on July 21. Experts say that Malaysia's current demographic window, in which it has a large working-age population relative to its under-15 and over-65 population, must not be wasted. Malaysians retire well before their working years are spent -- public servants only work until they're 55. Tengku Aizan Hamid of the Institute of Gerontology at University Putra Malaysia in Serdang told the Star, "Just because I am an old rambutan tree doesn't mean I produce old rambutans. In fact, the fruit of old trees is often sweeter."


Romanian women sell vegetables along the road to Baleni village on June 7, 2009. On Oct. 6, Romania's Constitutional Court upheld the government's planned austerity programs, which include reducing state salaries by 25 percent, upping the retirement age to 65, and tying pensions to inflation.


Taiwan's society is aging so rapidly -- 10 percent of the population is over 65 and rising -- that its president, Ma Ying-jeou, recently had to reassure citizens, "The problem of an aging population is not that serious." One perk of being old in Taiwan: more exercise. Twenty-five percent of elderly people regularly participate in sports, a much greater frequency than younger Taiwanese.


Two Ukrainian women cast their ballots in the village of Orane during the presidential election on Jan. 17. Ukraine's pension system is in crisis and nearing bankruptcy. The disbursements, which average around $140 a month per pensioner, constitute 18 percent of GDP. There are nine pensioners for every ten workers paying into the system -- and that ratio is going in the wrong way, fast. Over the last 20 years, Ukraine has avoided cutting its social-welfare programs, but the country seems to be paying for that decision now.


Singapore has one of the world's fastest-aging populations, with over-65-year-olds estimated to be 23 percent of the population by 2030. Singapore also has one of the world's lowest fertility rates, at only 1.22 children per woman, for which blame can be placed on the country's "Stop at Two" plan: a wildly successful population control campaign launched in the 1960s. Half a century later, the Singaporean health-care system faces a wave of elderly demand for services, which will prompt a bigger state investment in social-welfare spending.

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