NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Gray Dawn is Coming

July 25, 2001

There is good evidence that our grandchildren's world will be shaped by three major problems, observers note: the end of cheap energy, a water shortage and global aging. Aging is the most certain.

The U.S. has some advantages. A new book, "Gray Dawn: How the Coming Age Wave Will Transform America and the World," by Pete Peterson (Times Books) reports we're younger than other industrialized countries, and will remain so, thanks to a higher birth rate and immigration. And we currently have more assets put aside for old age security than any other nation.

  • But even in the U.S., a falling birth rate and longer life spans will almost halve the number of workers supporting retirees -- from 4.2 workers per retiree in 1995 to 2.3 in 2050.
  • And we have it easy; most European countries have a birth rate so low population is expected to decline.
  • Already there are only 1.3 workers per retiree in Italy, which will fall to 0.7 by 2050 - more retirees than workers.

Peterson offers several ways to keep the U.S. problem manageable, including delaying retirement and working longer; encouraging immigration and larger families with well-educated children; promoting a culture of "filial obligation," in which there is more direct family care of the elderly; and making old age saving mandatory.

Source: Scott Burns, "Be Awake for 'Gray Dawn' Debate," Dallas Morning News, July 24, 2001.


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