NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Greying World

May 14, 2004

The populations of developing countries are rapidly aging, leading to a demographic crisis in the financing of retirement programs. However, the developing world is aging at an even faster rate, according to the United Nations, U.S. Census and other demographic forecasters.

Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation says that if we compare the United States to Middle Eastern countries, for example:

  • It took 50 years for the median age in the United States to rise from 30 years to today's 35, and it will take another 50 years for the median age to increase another five years.
  • In Iran, over the next 50 years the median age will increase 20 years to 40.2 -- for a four times faster rate than in the United States.
  • Egypt is aging at three times the rate of the United States, and Iraq nearly 2.5 times faster.

"This is happening, primarily, because of the dramatic decline in fertility rates worldwide," says Longman. No industrialized country produces enough children to sustain its population. And even where fertility rates are above replacement levels, a dramatic fall in the number of children born to each woman is leading to a steep slowdown in population growth, as well as to unprecedented rates of population aging.

Falling fertility leads not only to population aging but to population decline:

  • World population could shrink before today's children retire, and there is an 85 percent chance that it will do so by the end of the century, according to the International Institute for Applied Systems.
  • If global fertility rates converge with those seen today in Europe or among native-born Americans, by 2200 the world population could shrink to half of what it is today, according to U.N. projections.

Source: Phillip Longman (New America Foundation), "The effects of global graying," Star-Telegram, May 14, 2004.


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