U.S. Elderly to Double in 25 Years

ByGeraldine Sealey

Feb. 6, 2002 -- The U.S. elderly population will grow by nearly 80 percent in the next 25 years — a "graying" trend that's only more pronounced in other developed countries, according to a government report released today.

By 2025, as the U.S. elderly population nearly doubles, the number of working-age adults and children will increase by only 15 percent, says the U.S. Census Bureau analysis. The number of people aged 65 and over throughout the world also will nearly double by 2025, while the number of children will increase just 3 percent.

Though it has only about one-fourth the total population of India, the United States has more people aged 80 and over and is second only to China in that category.

The United States is among many developed countries with low-fertility rates that will be confronted in the coming decades with growing elderly populations and fewer workers entering the labor force, the analysis said.

"One of the major challenges is going to be in supporting the growing elderly population during a time period when shorter cohorts of workers are entering the labor force," said Thomas McDevitt, a demographer with the population division of the U.S. Census Bureau. "The U.S. unfortunately must face that kind of a problem in the next quarter century."

Italy Is the World's Oldest Nation

The United States, however, is better positioned to handle the graying of its population than other developed countries in the world such as Japan and some European nations, McDevitt said, because it has a slightly higher fertility rate and higher immigration rates.

Italy is the world's grayest country — the working age population is expected to contract by 41 percent over the next half-century. Eighteen percent of Italians have celebrated at least a 65th birthday, according to the National Institute on Aging.

"Less developed" countries also will see their 65-plus populationgrow by 130 percent, but they'll also see a 44 percent increase in working-agepopulation and 5 percent boost in children.

The graying of the world population should be recognized by world leaders as a trend to be reckoned with, says Paul Hewitt, director of the Global Aging Initiative Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"This is a mega-trend — an epochal transformation for which very few of our institutions are prepared," he said.

Social Security, Weakened Military Allies of U.S. Concern

The increased aging of the population will require rethinking social policy from top to bottom, Hewitt said. Nations will be forced to face slowed economic growth potential, expensive retirement programs and the redefining of "old age" as attitudes shift to lifelong productivity, he said.

For the United States, the graying of its own population raises questions about the viability of the Social Security program, which is expected to pay out more than it takes in through payroll taxes by 2016.

But the aging of Japan and Europe also poses challenges for the United States, Hewitt said, as America likely will find itself with increasingly weak trading partners and military allies.

To counteract the draining economic effects of aging, world governments will have to mobilize to reform pensions, and to become more nimble and productive, Hewitt said.

Also according to the census analysis:

The United States remained the third most populous nation with 281 million people, only behind China with 1.3 billion and India with 1 billion. The world's population stood at 6.1 billion.

Over the next quarter century, the world's population is expected to grow by 29 percent, with almost the entire increase taking place in developing countries. The U.S. population is expected to grow 23 percent by 2025.

The United States has more than twice the population of Nigeria but fewer children under age 5.

The census analyzed population and housing data collected from Census 2000 and included data from the Census Bureau's international database, which covers 227 countries with populations of 5,000 or more.