Ageing is often presented in a negative way. Ageing is a problem, a costly, scary and unpleasant one, including problems like end-of-life care, pension schemes, retirement age, Alzheimer’s disease and so on. We seem to forget that to become older is among the greater achievements, if not the greatest, a sustainable society can reach. I say sustainable because I make the assumption that a sustainable society displays a relatively stable number of individuals. Fertility rates higher than the societal replacement rate (2.1 children per woman) necessarily lead to an unsustainable demography.
A society is ageing as the result of two demographic processes: the decrease of fertility and mortality rates: people have less children and die at a more advanced age. If a population is stable (in numbers) and ageing, it can only mean that individuals are living longer. Years of life can be gained from decreasing infant mortality rates or from the delay of death at older ages.
Almost every technological, societal and medical improvement developed in society eventually can be used for the delay of death. We should consider that, as long as a society is ageing, it is on the path of progress and sustainability. The way I see it, the demographically oldest societies are also the most advanced. Naturally, there are indissociable issues such as quality of life, literacy rates among many others that are being included in indexes like the Human Development Index. I am merely exaggerating the importance of age to remind how great an achievement an old society is. It is a reminder to tell those who brandish ageing as the cause of societal problems that ageing is not the cause, it is the aim.
I am not claiming that the process of ageing is a quiet and easy road. Far from it! Like most social evolutions, it requires time, adaptation and efforts. Neither am I saying that we should seek longevity at all costs. Ageing of our societies imposes the evolution of our healthcare systems and implies rethinking our family organisations. It also pushes our social and political systems to adapt to the expectations of a whole new population. Peacefully and successfully completing the ageing process of our societies appears as an essential aspect of the so called sustainable development: in the same way we are aiming to increase our use of renewable energies, we need to perceive the completion of the ageing process as an essential objective on a global scale.