Welcome Remarks at Harvard Initiative on Aging Symposium
Dean Douglas Elmendorf
January 3, 2019

I am very sorry that I am not able to join this symposium in person, but I did want to provide a brief welcome.

As dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and as an economist who has done research on the effects of an aging population on our economy and government budgets, I know that the implications of aging are more important than ever right now. Around the world, we are experiencing a wonderful transformation: For the first time in history, many people will live into their sixties and beyond. In the next 30 years, the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to double from its current levels, reaching around 2 billion. While we often think of aging populations in the context of high-income nations, most of the growth in the number of older people will come from low- and middle-income countries. For example, a child born in Brazil today can expect to live 20 years longer than a child born when I was born.

Enabling people to live longer is an amazing achievement but also presents major challenges—for our families, our communities, our health care systems, and our economies. As the dean of a school of public policy, I naturally think about the wide range of public policy issues raised by aging populations: How best can we encourage the development of new biomedical interventions that will be especially important for older people? How can we adapt our public infrastructure and private facilities to serve older people better? How can we help people without financial means, in this country and around the world, gain access to the technologies and supports they need? How can we ensure that older people have not only longevity but also dignity and the opportunity to continue contributing to our societies? And more.

With the challenges of aging becoming ever more important, the time to address these challenges is now. And with these challenges cutting across traditional disciplinary boundaries, the time for a broad initiative that brings together people from different fields is now as well. So, I am delighted that this symposium has drawn experts from Harvard Medical School, the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Kennedy School, the Harvard Global Health Institute, and other places. You are clinicians, scientists, ethicists, engineers, architects, designers, computer scientists, policy analysts, and more. Together, you have the capacity and commitment to make a real difference in how societies around the world respond to aging populations. I am grateful to the planners of this event for crafting what I think will be a tremendous catalyst for collaboration. I am grateful to all of you for being here. Thank you.