It is no novelty these days that our worldwide populations are aging, and Panama does not escape this reality. Panama’s population, according to the INEC, the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Censo, our population is aging in a marked manner, especially in the last 6 years.
The INEC insists that according to the 2010 Census, 7% of the 3.4 million inhabitants of Panama are over 60 years old. While demographic projections of the Pan American Health Organization estimate that in the next 50 years the group of people 65 years and over will represent more than 17% of the population (some specialists say 19%), there will be an accompanying increase in the demand for social and health care services. A geographical analysis at these figures reveals that the population over 65 today is concentrated in the Azuero Peninsula, the southern part of Veraguas Province and eastern Chiriquí Province which is a consequence of the exodus of the youth to urban centers of the country and a signficant decrease in birth rates.
In the case of the metropolitan area of Panama, you can see how this region concentrates a large number of people of working age, with neighborhoods in the districts of Ancon, San Francisco, Bethania, Juan Diaz and San Miguelito, where the average or median age is over 40 years. In so far as the population over 60 years is concerned, 66% of this group resides in the urban centers of the country, with a higher rate of aging of the population in urban areas (29%) than in the rural (24% ). The effects of the aging of the population in Panama presents a series of phenomena among we can safely say are the following:
1. It will have a direct impact on quality of life and health of the population. Mortality and morbidity associated with non-communicable diseases (such as cancer, diabetes and circulatory or heart disease), which already represent a high percentage of mortality in the country, will be accentuated.
2. With the marked increase in the number of people of retirement age, there will be a greater need to increase the savings needed for this population to cope adequately with this stage of life.
3. The inevitable depopulation of some areas of the country. This phenomenon is already occuring in countries such as Spain and Japan, where the falling birth rate and emigration processes from the towns and the country have caused entire villages to virtually disappeare.
Presently, the unprecedented growth of the country and our economy as evidenced by the growth of the GNP in the periods 2010, 2011 and 2012 of 10% or more, including a peak in the number of economically active forces, will present an enormous challenge to future governments to make the necessary adjustments to prepare for the changes ahead. Improvements in health systems and their suitability to care for these new demographic profiles, a total rehashing of the social security system, development of policies to stimulate growth in rural areas and urban centers within the country as a measure to contain migration to the metropolitan area, will represent only a partial list of measures needed to be taken to prevent what seems like the present boom to us today, from ending up being the problem of our next generations.
You need only look around you right here in Panama City to notice the aging of the population and how the seniors, known as the “jubilados,” have already made themselves a dynamic force for change. They are assiduously going about clamoring for their rightful place and space as many are even dedicating their time and energy to embarking on a second career or taking up University studies to improve their outlook.
A few have even involved themselves in pressuring for legislation to, for instance, elevate the old Silver Roll cemeteries to the status of Cultural and Historic Patrimony- Law 7 of 1 March 2012 (formerly Bill #348). This kind of legislation seeks to change minds and improve the way Panamanians view their own aging and mortality. They are not going for the old notion, which still exists in the minds of many youth, that they have reached the end of their usefulness in society and have become a burden. On the contrary, many are being re-hired by certain companies and governmental agencies for their enormous store of knowledge and experience and for their desire to contribute.
It is not surprising to find many a grey-headed foremen on construction crews today in Panama with more than 180 mega projects in progress. Their wisdom and experience are invaluable and the intelligent human resource departments of the differenct sectors of the economy have caught on.