Better Data
Better Lives for Older People

16th Annual AARP - United Nations Briefing Series on Global Aging

Share This

Executive Summary

On March 1, 2023, AARP and the United Nations hosted the 16th Annual AARP-United Nations Briefing Series on Global Ageing, Better Data, Better Lives for Older Persons, which focused on spotlighting older persons and creating political momentum for action on and delivery of age-disaggregated data. The conversation included the recent findings of the Fourth Review and Appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and gave Member States and other stakeholders the opportunity to further consider various proposals, options, and potential means of implementation.

Throughout the briefing, participants heard from several experts, policy professionals, and thought leaders who discussed the findings and methods for better evidence-based research to improve the lives of older individuals.

Opening: Erica Dhar, Director Global Alliances, AARP International; Peter Rundlet, Vice President, AARP International

The Briefing was opened by Erica Dhar, Director Global Alliances with AARP International, who welcomed everyone back to the first in-person meeting in three years and introduced Peter Rundlet, Vice President of AARP International. Peter opened his remarks by calling attention to the fact that there is an increase in aging across the world. “People are living longer lives, The percentage of the population at age 65 and older is getting bigger everywhere, and this trend’s going to continue,” he said. Peter pointed out that, while many people think of the trend as something we see in wealthy countries, “by 2050, 80 percent of the older persons in the world will live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).” While this is exciting, it is important for policymakers to plan for the demographic changes and data is key to that end. However, the most recent AARP Aging Readiness and Competitiveness Report found that only 32 percent of countries around the world have nationally representative, cross-sectional data on older populations that is available in the public domain. “This lack of data leaves policymakers with limited knowledge to plan for healthy aging policies,” he concluded.

Welcome Remarks: Indira Venkat, Senior Vice President, AARP Research

Following Peter’s remarks, Indira Venkat, Senior Vice President of AARP Research, discussed the importance of collecting data on older adults and the research that follows. AARP conducts this type of research in two separate ways: 1) through publicly available age-disaggregated data that it can analyze, and 2) commissioning its own research. On the latter, AARP issues more than 200 surveys each year to bring the lives and experiences of older adults to life. This work influences AARP’s efforts and much of it is available to the public.

Indira discussed the value and impact of research and data on the lives of older adults. “Where folks live, how far they must travel to get care, and the nutrition that they get—Is it adequate or not?—all are critical factors that help us bridge the disparity gap that exists,” she said. She went on to say that having data on older adults is critical for identifying needed interventions and also provides insights on where to direct resources to close this health equity gap. AARP pulls this data from several federal agencies, including the Census and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At the State level, AARP has been advocating legislators to create retirement plans for employees who may not otherwise have ­­­access to one. Data on how people save for retirement is critical to this effort. In addition, AARP is also learning how employers are upskilling and reskilling employees to develop solutions for individuals who will remain in the workforce longer than in the past. ­­

To gain more insights from older adults living in the United States, AARP, in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago, launched Foresight 50+, a survey panel. “The probability panel has nearly 30,000 adults aged 50 and above,” she said. “And this panel is rigorously designed to produce data that’s both statistically reliable and fully representative of the 50-plus population in the U.S.,” she said. This research was used extensively during the pandemic to educate on the issues older adults were facing and to improve nursing home conditions. Indira also said that AARP is now working on a survey panel for Asian Americans.

AARP also utilizes data from law enforcement agencies to help educate older individuals on the risk of fraud. The organization conducts surveys to better understand why they may be more vulnerable to scams and that, in turn, helps form AARP’s guidance on detecting and reporting fraud.

Opening Remarks: Guy Bernard Ryder, Under-Secretary-General for Policy, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations

Following Indira’s remarks, Guy Bernard Ryder, Under-Secretary-General for Policy in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General at the United Nations (UN), kicked off his remarks by emphasizing that the increased aging population is a testament to the progress of mankind. “The reality of global aging is a result of a triumph of science, health policy, and social policy,” he noted, adding that “the policy challenges resulting from aging are nonetheless formidable.”

He noted that the capacity of each of the individual 193 UN countries to implement policies around the aging population will vary based on the data they are able to gather. Under-Secretary-General Ryder noted that there are many tangibles to supporting an active aging population, but there are other intangibles, such as dignity, that are important as well.

He also said the specific human rights of older adults should be recognized and codified, and that the UN is working on this. Argentina is leading an open-end working group, which, under the guidance of the Secretary General, is working on codifying these rights in a legal instrument.

Under-Secretary-General Ryder closed by stating the need to expand the freedom of choice for older individuals, as too many individuals stay in the workforce beyond a standard retirement age to avoid retiring into poverty. Those that stay in the workforce should be able to do so with dignity.

Keynote Remarks: Professor Sir Ian Diamond, United Kingdom, National Statistician, United Kingdom Statistics Authority

For the keynote, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the UK National Statistician, said that the focus on aging began in the 1980s when actuaries realized that individuals may be outliving their pensions, and said these meetings are a testament to the progress that has been made. He also said that this makes actively aging more critical, “because if you spend the last 20 years of your life in poverty, in ill health, with disabilities, then in most societies it really isn’t much fun.”

Sir Ian also said one of the challenges in using data to improve the lives of older individuals is merging qualitative and quantitative data. He also told the story of conducting the 2021 UK Census both digitally and with paper forms. One of the shocks was the high number of older adults who completed the census digitally. In addition, Sir Ian discussed how the linking of health, census, and economic data during the COVID-19 pandemic showed how the virus had a greater impact on older individuals and people of lower socioeconomic status and said that linking datasets leads to overall better data.

Longitudinal data, where one goes back to the same person over and over, also leads to better data. He cited research originally begun in 1946 to study childbirth after World War II that is still going with the same patient population.

Data analyses can also help predict challenges and needs. Sir Ian said analyzing where people are moving for retirement provides an indication of where service delivery needs to be improved.

Sir Ian closed by saying that older individuals want to be in the workforce or useful in other ways and posed the question of how we make this population be seen as the valuable resource that it is.

Panel Discussion: Carolee Lee, CEO and Founder, Women’s Health Access Matters; Haleh Nazeri, Platform Curator, Shaping the Future of Financial and Monetary Systems, World Economic Forum; Paul Gruenwald, Global Chief Economist, S&P Global Ratings

Moderated by Justin Ladner, Senior Advisor, Longevity Economy, AARP Thought Leadership

The panel started with a brief introduction for each speaker. Moderator Justin Ladner asked the first question “Why is data needed?” Haleh Nazeri, Platform Curator at Shaping the Future of Financial and Monetary Systems for the World Economic Forum (WEF), said simply, “The numbers don’t lie.” For example, in her work at WEF, she studies how people are saving for retirement and that only about a third of people living in LMICs have any sort of formal retirement income. Carolee Lee, CEO and Founder of Women’s Health Access Matters, also noted that in her work, actual research with findings on issues like the amount of research funding allocated for women’s health is extremely powerful. Justin then asked, “How do gaps in data affect our ability to answer critical questions?” Paul Gruenwald, Global Chief Economist with S&P Global Ratings, said that looking beyond cost at other areas like benefits and higher-frequency data was needed to determine what questions should be asked. That in turn, will help determine where the gaps exist.

For his next question, Justin asked Carolee about her organization’s work with the Rand Corporation on women’s cancer research. The study found that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) only provides 15 percent in funding towards women and lung cancer even though it is the leading cause of cancer death in women. In addition, the NIH only allocates 12 percent for the study of brain disease in women and 7 percent for autoimmune disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, but only 4 percent in funding is allocated. The study found that if an additional $350 million were invested in these four areas, it would give back $14 billion to the U.S. economy. Carolee said that there are two resolutions in Congress proposing this.

Justin then asked Haleh about the WEF’s Longevity Economy program, an effort that goes beyond the idea of financial literacy and explores what living a longer, healthier life looks like. The concept, known as longevity literacy, begins with people taking steps to plan on living a long, healthy life starting in their 20s. Haleh also emphasized the importance of creating a narrative around data by presenting them in a way that also includes suggestions on what to do next. “Sometimes, we think the data should be enough to implement change, and I don’t know if people can quite do that yet.”

Justin went on to say that with the recently published Global Longevity Outlook® Report, which builds on AARP’s existing longevity economy work by estimating the 50-plus population’s consumption spending and the resulting impact estimates for each individual economy, one of the biggest challenges is “how to take a very big set of data for 76 individual economies and convey the important stories that come out of that data? One example he gave was that the report found that more than 40 percent of the impact that the global population aged 50 and older has on the global economic activity as measured by GDP comes from the spending of older people on goods and services from foreign countries. “The importance of 50-plus people around the world really extends to all corners of the world, including places that have young populations,” he observed.

The next set of questions were specific to each panelist. Paul discussed how connecting the dots across data will help raise questions that need to be answered. From there, the next step is breaking down the cultural norms on issues such as when it is appropriate to retire. Haleh said that the WEF is working on public-private partnerships to fill this void with the understanding that aging is affecting everyone. In discussing barriers, Carolee said that the biggest one is “time, energy, finding out where and how do I connect the dots to make this that most impactful that I can make it to create sustainable change.”

Justin closed by giving each panelist a chance to make their final point. Haleh said that thinking about this issue in the short-term starts with longevity literacy and with public-private partnerships in the long-term. Paul said the first step is awareness and then the next step is getting the data. Carolee noted that less than 2 percent of venture capitalist money and less than 1 percent in biopharma funding goes to women-owned businesses. She noted that we can’t wait decades to change these types of inequities. 

Closing Remarks: Amal Abou Rafeh, Chief of the Programme on Ageing Section, UN DESA

Following the audience Q&A portion, Amal Abou Rafeh closed the event by asking the audience to imagine that it is the year 2050 and there are photos of two babies. One is expected to live 30 years longer than the other because of many factors, including where the infants were born. To close this longevity gap, the human rights of older people need to be codified, and data needs to be utilized to develop policies that help people live longer, healthier lives.

She thanked everyone for attending and all panelists and speakers for their participation.

Recorded Session

Photo Gallery


Related Resources

related resources

Why longevity literacy is the secret to a prosperous longer life

Longevity literacy empowers individuals to live a healthy and sustainable life with dignity and purpose, while building resilience to address the challenges of an evolving world. Individuals need to focus on three core principles: quality of life, financial resilience and purpose. Haleh Nazeri, Platform Curator, Financial Services, World Economic Forum 

The WHAM Report

The WHAM Report is a series of studies that make clear the benefits of better funding and research in women’s health. This is an economic issue that impacts us all.  

The Global Longevity Economy® Outlook

AARP The Global Longevity Economy® Outlook builds on AARP’s existing longevity economy work by estimating the 50-plus population’s consumption spending and the resulting impact on GDP, employment, and labor income from 2020 to 2050. This study examines 76 economies which span six continents and collectively account for 79% of the world’s population and 95% of global GDP. In addition to economic impact estimates for each individual economy, our analysis produces global estimates for the 50-plus population’s contribution to economic activity.

Report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on ageing-related statistics and age-disaggregated data

As the proportion of the world’s population in the older ages continues to increase, the need for improved information and analysis of population ageing becomes pressing. Furthermore, implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the pledge to leave no one behind require timely and reliable data across all ages.

The report provides an overview of challenges with respect to data on older populations and includes a proposal to form a new city group, the Titchfield group on ageing-related statistics and age-disaggregated data, to address issues of conceptualization, methodology and instruments in the domains of ageing-related statistics and age-disaggregated data. 

For more information, please contact: Bethany Brown, Director for Global Alliances, AARP:
or Amal Abou Rafeh, Chief, Programme on Ageing, United Nations DESA: