Data: Beyond Information to the Human Voice

Article by Vanessa Liston published in AARP International Journal October 2015.

The United Nations (UN) Post-2015 Development Agenda has sharpened the global focus on the need for more comprehensive data on issues related to aging and older people.

As demographics are shifting toward a large increase in the proportion of the population that is 60+ by 2050, aging is becoming an important factor to include in policies for achieving sustainable societies. To address this new demographic challenge, decision-making bodies are calling for a “transformative agenda for official statistics”(1) that leads to significant improvement in the breadth and depth of statistics on aging at national levels as well as new and alternative data types. New data can supplement official data to support policy and program development and respond to the future needs as outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This “transformative agenda” is a valuable opportunity to expand the knowledge base on older people and older women in particular.  

Yet, in producing more data and statistics, it is important that we also transform the way we think about and use this information. Current data paradigms are focused on information about older people in the form of statistics on households, income, health, isolation, and other variables. These data are seen as an important tool for decision makers to understand needs and progress on key development and social indicators. However, if we assume the situation of perfect and complete scientific data, we are still left with many gaps in getting from data to policies and programs that improve these indicators. One of the most important gaps in this respect is knowledge on public opinion. Public opinion has a particular relevance for older women, as it is a significant contributory factor in discriminatory and/or exclusionary practices and policies. In addition, for complex policy issues such as aging, where there are competing interests and demands on resources, public opinion plays a critical role in achieving sustainable policy.

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