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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

World Population Grows Older, Study Finds

WASHINGTON (CN) - The world's older population is growing, a government study found, which may be both good and bad news.

A report released yesterday found that the U.S. population of people 65 years and older will nearly double in the next thirty years, from 48 million to 88 million by 2050, as life expectancy is anticipated to extend another eight years to roughly 76 years.

Of today's 7.3 billion worldwide population, an estimated 8.5 percent - 617 million - are at least 65 years old. By 2030, that number is projected to be at least 1 billion people, or 12 percent of the world's population, and by 2050 the number will reach 1.6 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau report found.

By contrast, the population of those younger than 20 years old is projected to remain relatively flat in the next 35 years at roughly 2.5 billion. The working-class population - those aged 20 to 64 years old - will increase only moderately during that time, at about 25 percent.

"Older people are a rapidly growing proportion of the world's population," Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA), said in a statement. "The increase in our aging population presents many opportunities and also several public health challenges that we need to prepare for."

People in high- and middle-income countries primarily face noncommunicable diseases, with cardiovascular disease and diabetes causing the largest share of deaths in both men and women by age 60. Middle-income and low-income countries, particularly in Africa, face risks from both noncommunicable and communicable diseases.

The study also noted the United States' "wealth-health paradox:" Americans live in the wealthiest larger nation but are not the healthiest people in the world due to obesity, lack of physical activity and a rate of tobacco use that has not fallen as quickly as in wealthy European nations.

"People are living longer, but that does not necessarily mean that they are living healthier," Hodes said.

"We are seeing population aging in every country in every part of the world," Dr. John Haaga, acting director of NIA's Division of Behavioral and Social Research, said. "Many countries in Europe and Asia are further along in the process, or moving more rapidly, than we are in the United States."

The report, which attributes the decrease in younger people to lower fertility rates and increasing life expectancy, stated that "population aging" will bring both benefits and detriments.

One benefit was the narrowing gender gap in the labor force for nearly all the countries examined. Men and women are both working longer in many countries, the report found. For example, the percentage of U.S. workers older than 65 to 69 years old increased from 26 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2011, the report found.

The aging population will also likely bring greater problems, however. Haaga said that an aging world population means a greater impact on infrastructure, including pensions, health care and housing.

The study dismissed theories that an aging population leads to growing health care costs, suggesting that as an older population becomes healthier it may also cost less in terms of health care and contribute more to society.

"Longer life does not necessarily correlate with higher health expenditure," the 175-page report states.

However, it also found that health care costs could be more burdensome on those living in poorer countries, where many people need to borrow or sell items to pay for health care.

To counter the aging population, many countries have taken on greater pension responsibilities, according to the report. It said that, in 1940, only 33 countries had public pension programs for the elderly, such as the U.S. Social Security system, compared to 177 countries today.

The report cites public concerns and potential political solutions regarding the fiscal sustainability of such pension programs, but it does not suggest a preferred path.

The study was commissioned by the NIA and produced by the U.S. Census Bureau and World Health Organization.

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