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Learning English - Words in the News
21 December, 2004 - Published 17:46 GMT
Uruguay aged population increases
Elderly couple

According to the United Nations, global society is older than it has ever been in human history. For years, rich nations have dealt with problems associated with an ageing population, such as higher healthcare costs. But increasingly, developing countries like Uruguay also have to deal with the issue. This report from Elliott Gotkine:

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Uruguay has often been described as the Switzerland of South America: it has a stable democracy, a relatively equitable distribution of wealth and the most generous welfare state in the region. It also has the highest proportion of elderly people in the hemisphere.

Almost a fifth of Uruguayans are aged over sixty. In the region, only the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Barbados and Martinique come close.

So how did a Catholic country in South America get so old? The main reason is healthcare, which is free for those who can't afford it and widely available. But there are other reasons too. In contrast to its neighbours, there is a very relaxed attitude to contraception in Uruguay. As a result, it has one of the lowest birth rates in the region.

Emigration also contributes to the country's ageing population. In a country of under three and half million people, more than twenty thousand Uruguayans leave each year to seek better opportunities abroad. They mostly head to western Europe, particularly Spain and Italy. These countries are only too happy to welcome well-qualified, young immigrants because it helps them deal with their own problems of having too few workers supporting too many old people.

Elliott Gotkine, BBC News

Listen to the words

not likely to change

relatively equitable distribution
fairly equally shared out

welfare state
a system of taxation which allows the government of a country to provide social services such as health care to people who need them

part of something compared with the whole

half of a sphere, especially the Earth

widely available
open to most people

relaxed attitude
an informal or liberal approach to

various methods which are intended to prevent pregnancy

head to
go to

people who leave their own country to live in another country

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