Why Our Population Is Aging

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In industrialized countries, the number of people reaching retirement age is growing, while the number of working age people is declining.

  • The number of people aged 80 and older is growing at a faster rate than any other age group worldwide.
  • By the year 2050, there will be almost twice as many older non-working people than there are now, in contrast to the total number of workers.
  • In 1950, there were 12 people of working age for every person age 65 or older. In 2010, there are only 9 contributing to old age support in their countries. That means that here in the U.S., fewer people are contributing to Social Security and Medicare in proportion to the number of people needing and using those programs.

EarthSky spoke with Carl Haub, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington D.C.- based think-tank, about why the population is getting older. He said it's because couples are having fewer children, on average. He said:

If a couple has two children themselves, then they basically replace themselves. But if they only have 1.2 or 1.3 or 1.4, every succeeding generation gets smaller and smaller.

Haub said that governments in some countries such as Spain and Russia have offered couples incentives to have more children. "It's quite a phenomenon in world history," he said. "We've never seen this before."

Haub said that this aging population trend may be irreversible.

If you look in Europe or Japan, the situation is in fact pretty extreme. We already have about 23 percent of the population of Japan that are 65 and over. And in many European countries, the youngest population, under 5, is about half the size of their parents' age group.

He said the shrinking population of young people presents the government with a big challenge: how to keep paying for expensive social services. He said:

In addition to virtually free health care, virtually free long-term health care, free education, all of these things are paid for by the people during their working lives. They expect them. They expect free university for their children. They expect their pensions to be there.

The trend in developed countries is in direct contrast to the trend in developing countries, Haub said.

If we look at Africa, more than half of most countries' populations are below the age of 20. This huge number of young people moving up the age ladder will be having children. The rate of population growth we see globally will depend on how many children they have.

Global population is expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050.

Written by Earthsky.org

[Photo by Eugenio Wilman]

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