Aging America: As a nation, we’re younger than we may think

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Aging America
US Census chart of relative age of populations in developed countries

CLICK on the CHART to enlarge it for easier reading.

From OurValues creator Dr. Wayne BakerAll of us need to talk about the aging of America, a universal concern for us as individuals, families and communities. This week, I’m encouraging you to use this OurValues series along with the ReadTheSpirit cover story about advocate-for-the-elderly Missy Buchanan to share with your friends, a class or a small group.

How old are we as a nation?

No, I’m not asking: When was the U.S. founded? I’m asking: As our aging population dramatically increases—how old is the U.S. compared with other developing nations?

That might sound like a simple question and, if you’ve been following our series this week, you may conclude we’re older than the rest of the world. News stories from global hotspots regularly point out that some of the most volatile areas of the world have exceptionally young populations. Millions of restless under-employed teens and 20-somethings contribute to global tensions.

But here’s some potentially “good news”—and certainly a discussion-starter with friends: In fact, compared with other developed nations, the US Census report we’ve been looking at this week concludes that we’re quite youthful!

Here’s how the researchers draw that conclusion:

First, they start by limiting the global comparison, writing …

The United States is aging, but it is still younger than most other developed countries. In comparison with the other largest developed countries, only Russia, with 13 percent of its population aged 65 and over, was younger than the United States in 2012.

Germany, Italy, and Japan all had at least 20 percent of their population aged 65 and over. Japan, one of the oldest countries in the world, had nearly 24 percent of its population aged 65 and over. 

Between 2012 and 2030, the proportion aged 65 and over is projected to increase in all developed countries. Japan is projected to continue to be the oldest country, with almost one-third (32.2 percent) of its population aged 65 and over in 2030. Other developed countries are expected to have over one-quarter of their population aged 65 and over, including Germany with 27.9 percent and Italy with 25.5 percent. Although the United States is also projected to age over this period, it will remain one of the younger developed countries, with only 20.3 percent of its population aged 65 and over in 2030.

The proportion aged 65 and over is projected to have a smaller increase from 2030 to 2050 in the United States compared with many other developed countries where this proportion is projected to continue to increase over the next several decades. Japan’s projected increase is the most dramatic, with the proportion aged 65 and over increasing to over 40 percent of the population by 2050. Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain are expected to have over 30 percent of their population aged 65 and over in 2050. 

But don’t dismiss the “Aging of America” as a crucial issue just yet! The summary, above, compares the elderly percentage of each nation included in the list. When comparing the total population of older people, the U.S. tops the list. The report says …

Although the United States is relatively young compared with many other developed countries, it has the largest number of people aged 65 and over among the developed countries, with over 43 million older people in 2012. Japan had the second largest, with just over 30 million in 2012. The United States is projected to continue to have the largest number of people aged 65 and over among the developed countries, with just under 73 million by 2030 and almost 83 million by 2050. Japan is projected to have the second-largest number of older people among the developed countries, with almost 39 million in 2030 and nearly 43 million in 2050.

Have you, your family or your friends experienced life in the other cultures mentioned in this comparison? How do you think cultures in these nations are shaped by a growing share of seniors?

Start a conversation with friends …

OurValues is designed to encourage civil dialogue on challenging subjects—and, this week, we hope readers will share this series with friends. You’re free to print out, repost or share these five columns on aging to get folks talking. Leave a comment below. Email someone. Come on, start talking …

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