Derek Thompson examines the latest numbers:
Today, one in seven Americans is over 65. In 15 years, one in five Americans will be over 65. The gray boom is inevitable and it’s happening for two simple reasons. The first reason is that all Americans are living longer (except, for mysterious reasons, poor women). The second reason is that every living member of the baby boomer generation, the largest adult generation in U.S. history (there are actually more Millennials, born between the early 1980s and late 1990s), will be older than 65 in the year 2030. Here, from a new Census report, is a look at the steady growth of 65+ Americans—a population that will double in the next four decades.
Take a look at the red bars in the chart on the right. They show the projected size of the elderly population in various developed countries in 2050, and the United States is in by far the best shape. Our elderly population stabilizes in 2030 at about 21 percent of the total population, a number that’s significantly lower than even the second-best country (Britain, at 24 percent). Most other countries not only have elderly populations that are far larger, but their elderly populations are growing. These countries have demographic problems.
It’s worth driving this point home: America doesn’t really have a huge aging problem. We have a very moderate aging problem, which could be handled in the federal budget with fairly modest changes to Social Security and Medicare. What we do have is a health care problem. But that’s a problem for us all.
Ben Casselman joins the conversation:
One reason the U.S. is in better shape is its comparatively high rate of immigration. Since people tend to migrate when they are younger, immigrants tend to bring down the age of the population as a whole. Moreover, at least in the U.S., immigrants tend to have a higher birth rate than the native-born population, although the gap has narrowed somewhatin recent years. The future direction of immigration, therefore, makes a big difference to the age breakdown of the U.S. population. The Census Bureau’s demographic estimates are based on a middle-of-the-road projection of future immigration, but the bureau also publishes alternative scenarios. In the “high immigration” scenario, the U.S. has nearly 22 million more working-age residents in 2050 than in the “low immigration” case.
Lydia DePillis adds:
Even as the elderly population increases, the younger population decreases in relative terms, which leaves the overall dependency ratio relatively stable. In 2050, it’ll even be substantially lower than it was in the roaring 1960s … Of course, youth dependency and old age dependency carry different kinds of burdens — older people require more medical care, while young people carry more educational costs. So the economy will still have to adapt to take care of the shifting load of non-working people. But overall, the picture is a lot less alarming when you know America has borne something similar in the past.