With much hope and some fear, Chile is entering the constituent process aiming to present a proposal of a new political constitution for the country. The political constitution of the Republic is an intergenerational social contract itself. This ambitious agreement must consider the interests of the entire population, and reflect those of the majority while respecting minorities.
The structural change in the age distribution of the population reflects a higher life expectancy and lower birth rate, which produces a transition from a pyramidal structure to a box-shaped one. The difference in area between the box and pyramid shapes represents the expansion of the age group at the top of the age scale. This structural change imposes institutional, structural, and human capital challenges.
The average validity of constitutions in democracies is 21 years (Ginsburg et al. 2009.) Chile, including the initial period of experimentation (1810-1830), has an average of 27 years, and if we do not include it, an average of 49 years. Given these data, it is possible to estimate that the new constitution could govern the country until, at least, the period between 2043 and 2049, and even until 2071.
According to SENAMA, Law No. 19,828 defines a senior (AM for the initials in Spanish, “older adult”) as a person who has reached the age of 60 years old. The graphs below show the proportions of people over 60 (AM) and 80 years old out of the total population. The red lines indicate the decades from 2020 to 2070 and the corresponding percentages at the beginning of each. In 2020, the age group of people over 60 represents 17.3% of the total population of the country. By 2040, it will represent 27.9%, adding ten percentage points, and by 2060, more than double the current percentage, reaching 35.4%.
For its part, the group made up of people over 80 years old will see their percentage of the total population double in the next decade. It will represent more than three times the current percentage by 2050 and more than four times by 2070.
The older adults in 2050 will be people who were born before 1990. In other words, the older adults in 2050 will be mostly “millennials”, i.e. generation Y.
The average Conventional Constituent is 44 years old. How many years will this conventional constituent average in 21 years (minimum expected validity of the new constitution)? Precisely 60 years. I wonder if the silence thus far regarding aging and AM is conscious or intentional or not. The children were mentioned in the CC opening speech. Such a mention was widely recognized and valued. I agree. According to UNICEF, children are defined as persons under 18 years old unless relevant laws recognize an earlier age of majority. The United Nations defines youth as the group made up of people between 15 and 24 years of age, differentiating between adolescents (13-19) and young adults (20-24) for statistical purposes. Therefore, a more specific classification of childhood is understood to include those under 15 years of age. Chile considers the age of majority at 18 years of age and defines early childhood as the period up to 6 years of age. People who today are under 18 years old are those who were born from 2003 onwards. A vulnerable minority belonging to this group are those children who depend on the SENAME, and many of their rights have been violated. This age group, today under 18 years old, will be AM or soon to be in 2068, and life expectancy by then will probably be greater than it is today. So, what resources and institutions do we need so that today’s children, especially those who did not have the desired childhood, have a dignified old age? An appropriate answer to this question requires science and agreements. And while Chile is in the middle of a process to elaborate a new constitution, which will govern the country for the next 30 years (2051), the CC should discuss it and try to produce a roadmap that progressively guides the country to be able to provide a dignified old age. This process implies discussing and examining unpopular but accurate measures, such as a higher contribution rate, higher retirement age, and minimum working period to retire. It also requires discussions around industrial policy and measures that generate and sustain a labour market that offers better wages.
The challenges facing Chile are highly complex and long-term. Despite this, the prevailing sentiment in the population (myself included) is one of hope. That reflects the importance of the CC and the coming elections. Because with our vote we place our hope in our representatives, and we invest them with the responsibility of responding to the interests of the majority while respecting minorities. Such responsibility involves discussions and agreements regarding the institutions and resources necessary to generate sustainability according to the evolution of the human being. Will we be able to honour that hope?