The proportion of elderly in the population increases as fertility declines and longevity increases. The absolute numbers grow faster than the total population. The proportion of the Brazilian population age sixty-five and older grew from 6.4 percent in 1960 to 7.6 percent in 1980 and 8 percent in 1991, or about 11.7 million. By 2020 the number is expected to increase to 15 percent of the population, or about 33 million. Brazil faces particular problems with the aged because of difficulties in employing them (younger and better trained workers are preferred over middle-aged workers) and a lack of appropriate means to care for them. As people live longer, the number of siblings and children drops, and population mobility increases. Consequently, older people are less likely to have children or other relatives living nearby who are willing and able to care for them. In 1996 the country was shocked by the number of deaths of elderly living in very poor conditions in publicly supported homes for senior citizens, especially the case of the Santa Genoveva Clinic in Rio de Janeiro.
The government-run social security system provides minimal pensions for retired people, including those in rural areas who did not contribute to the system as employees. However, health care becomes expensive in old age, especially for the so-called degenerative diseases, and the cost of private health insurance becomes prohibitive. Retired persons were successful in organizing pressure groups to protect the real value, after inflation, of their pensions in the early 1990s by keeping them pegged to the minimum wage. Nonetheless, these pensions were still far from being sufficient to care for the needs of most elderly persons.
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