As Mexico ages, utilities fall short


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INA SUN room in Mexico City, a group of elderly people sit around a whiteboard. Some are sleeping; others play a game. They shout words starting with the syllable the previous one ends with: “Taco!” “Comal!” A sparkling young worker accompanies them.

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It’s a rare sight in Mexico, where facilities for the elderly are scarce. Emma Tapia founded the house, Casa Alicia, in 2017. It can accommodate 20 women; the day center is also open to men. “The demand is growing very quickly,” she says.

Mexico is aging fast. The proportion of its inhabitants who are under 20 peaked in 2010. The birth rate is declining. In 1960, the average Mexican could expect to have seven children; now the number is two. Life expectancy rose from 57 to 75 years over the same period, putting Mexico on a par with either China or Lithuania. Today, 12% of Mexicans are over 60, compared to 9% in 2010; by 2050, they will represent around a quarter of the population. “Mexico’s age pyramid is not so clearly a pyramid anymore,” says Baruch Sangines, demographer. Covid-19, which according to The EconomistThe calculations of, which resulted in more than half a million additional deaths in Mexico, may have slowed this trend, but only slightly.

Most gray countries are also wealthy and can therefore afford good public services for the elderly. For countries not yet rich like Mexico, rapid aging poses more difficult problems. Mexican policymakers are starting to take note and tackle the situation, but too slowly, says Luis Miguel Gutiérrez Robledo of the National Institute of Geriatrics, a government research organization.

Older people in Mexico, unfortunately, are not in good shape. Almost a third of those over 50 are obese, against a fifth in 1995, according to the national statistics agency. Not surprisingly, diabetes and heart disease are prevalent. As people live longer, dementia also becomes more common.

In addition, the Mexican public health system is fragmented. A 2018 survey found that 12% of older people had no access to any medical service, whether in private or public clinics. There are 700 geriatric specialists in the country, serving a population of 126 million. In the United States, there are ten times as many (for a population almost three times as large).

For many Mexicans, nursing homes have “negative connotations,” Ms. Tapia says. As in many other Latin countries, most believe that the elderly should be cared for at home, surrounded by their relatives and relatives. But it creates a burden that many middle-aged Mexicans find it difficult to bear. More and more women are working outside the home, so they have less time and perhaps less desire to take on the traditional role of caregiver. In 1990, 34% of women were in the labor force; 46% are now.

In a sunny patio filled with cacti, Ramón Jordan explains that his mother, Amalia Rocha Hernández, 100, moved in with him after being crossed between his siblings, each of whom got tired of taking care of her. Mr. Jordan is 66 years old.Hijole, he’s old too! Mrs. Rocha said, looking up from her sewing. Mr Jordan says his mother is no burden, but then lists a litany of difficulties he faces, ranging from wanting to talk too much to knocking on his door at night.

Help is hard to find. There is no comprehensive public caregiver system and private care is expensive. Mr. Jordan relies on his son and daughter-in-law to help him. The National Institute of Geriatrics estimates that there are only 1,490 nursing homes, offering 40,000 places, in all of Mexico. Almost all of them are private and expensive. Casa Alicia charges 16,000 pesos ($ 793) per month for residents and 9,500 pesos for those using the day center.

Will you feed me again

An estimated 38% of the elderly are poor, according to an official measure that includes not only income but also access to services. There is no universal social security system in Mexico. Since most jobs are informal, less than half of Mexicans have a pension. Pedro Vásquez Colmenares, author of a book on the subject, describes the lack of universal pensions as “the country’s biggest failure since the Mexican Revolution”.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has increased the distribution of money to the elderly. But even if these bungs last longer than his mandate (he resigns in 2024), it is not certain that they will be sustainable, as the number of elderly people increases.

A few states are trying to provide more care. In Veracruz, which is aging faster than all but two of Mexico’s 32 states, the local health authority runs three public homes that care for 120 people. And some private companies are also stepping in by hiring seniors, whom they praise as enthusiastic and diligent. Walmart, an American supermarket chain with branches in Mexico, hires people over 60 to do their shopping. When Walmart said it would end the practice during the pandemic, elderly packers protested. They are now back at the cash desks, doubly masked.â– 

This article appeared in the Americas section of the print edition under the headline “Do not age gracefully”

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