GLOBAL - Robert Zoellick, World Bank president, told a recent conference on longevity that the demographics of emerging markets might challenge their economies.

The highest growth in working populations between 2010 and 2020 will be found in India and sub-Saharan Africa, Zoellick told Axa Group's first global forum for longevity.

However, a quarter of countries that are ageing most rapidly are in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to new research conducted by the World Bank.

"Some of the fastest growth in ageing is occurring in some of the youngest countries," Zoellick said.

"On the policy side, we run the challenge that some countries are likely to grow old before they get wealthy."

By 2050, 41% of South Koreans will be over 50, double the number today, he added,
emphasising that the government had been preparing well for this situation.

Zoellick pointed to pension and sovereign wealth funds that invest in markets like sub-Saharan Africa, including through the World Bank's own dedicated equity fund.

"A lot of the growth potential will be in the developing world - we are trying to create a model to expand these markets," he said, pointing to a similar Latin America fund the bank was developing. 

Zoellick was joined by other speakers, including experts on ageing and demographics, who also urged policymakers to take greater account of society's ageing characteristics.

Welfare and pension systems in Western Europe are based on mid-twentieth century assumptions that should be overcome, the conference heard.

Prof James Vaupel of the Max Planck Institute in Rostock, Germany, warned: "Very long lifespans are likely among children born today."

Prof Thomas Kirkwood of the University of Newcastle, UK, cited a study carried out for the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, which placed the value of the economic activity of British over-65s at £40bn (€45bn).

Negativity around ageing "must be overcome", he said, adding: "We have to rethink working lives."