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The downside of living longer
August 29, 2007 6:49 AM   Subscribe

Animated population pyramids project a steady increase in the median age. England and Wales. United States. Canada. China. Japan. "The number of older persons has tripled over the last 50 years; it will more than triple again over the next 50 years." [pdf] There will be a shortage of workers to support the retired and disabled. The looming crisis has been predicted for years. Proposed solutions include robots and immigration. [previously, previously]
posted by desjardins (39 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lastday, Capricorn 29's. Year of the City: 2274. Carousel begins.
posted by smoothvirus at 6:57 AM on August 29, 2007


More and more people can't afford to retire or they can't afford health insurance, so they'll work until they're carried out horizontally.

Looming crisis averted.
posted by SteveInMaine at 7:12 AM on August 29, 2007


That Japanese one is terrifying.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:21 AM on August 29, 2007


Yes, our social safety net is really just the world's largest pyramid scheme. And like all pyramid schemes, it will collapse in a heap when the pyramid becomes sufficiently inverted.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:23 AM on August 29, 2007


Actually, if you watch the US one, there's a ripple of "old" people but it dies out (so to speak) by the time then get to 65-75 or so. At that point the graph is simply wider, but not all that much skewed towards old. Still a larger percentage, but not as bad as it looks at first.

Another propsed solution is the ever-present Republican one: Cut taxes. That is, give up supporting them at all.

Of course a better solution would be to resume taxing people who aren't workers but have tons of money anyway.
posted by DU at 7:24 AM on August 29, 2007


Robots? No thanks. I've seen the commercial, I know what they do to old people.
posted by Foosnark at 7:28 AM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


...our social safety net is really just the world's largest pyramid scheme.

Only if you consider *any* subscription service a pyramid scheme. The money from new sales funds the existing customer base in almost every industry.
posted by DU at 7:34 AM on August 29, 2007


On the England and Wales graph, the massive decline in babies born between 1915 and 1918 is amazing. You can also see that there are fewer males born in 1898 alive now than you would expect: they would have been the right age to go and fight in the First World War.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2007


The Japanese, much like Panda Bears across the Sea of Japan seem to be on a voluntary extinction program.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:11 AM on August 29, 2007


Lastday, Capricorn 29's. Year of the City: 2274. Carousel begins.

It's a nice idea, but until the government upholds its part of the bargain and gives me drugged up zero-g sex with Jenny Agguter I'm a runner.
posted by vbfg at 8:13 AM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Here is an analytical graph I made back in 2006 comparing 1992 (the year I first moved to Japan) and 2021, showing the transition of population cohorts over that time.

(The solid color part of the bars is the amount of population gained in that age cohort, and the translucent is the amount of population lost in that cohort).

I'm kinda thinking Japan might not be a bad place to go back and retire for a while . . . what's happening is that the countryside is emptying out (of young people), the major citiies still seem as crowded.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:29 AM on August 29, 2007


Robots? No thanks. I've seen the commercial, I know what they do to old people.

This is the pusher robot. Go stand by the stairs. I will protect you. I will protect you from the terrible secret of space.
posted by GuyZero at 8:30 AM on August 29, 2007


It seems to me, in light of the food crisis reported earlier, that there is a solution.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 8:35 AM on August 29, 2007


Regarding the Japanese graphs:

Aside from the crunch that will come when retirees outnumber workers -- a major but temporary problem -- what's wrong with those graphs that show downward population trends?

Fewer people seems like a good thing to me.
posted by Ickster at 9:10 AM on August 29, 2007


Yeah fewer is good, but we need fewer in ALL age groups not just the supporting groups.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:17 AM on August 29, 2007


One child policy for all!
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:19 AM on August 29, 2007


These charts are a nice way to determine the definition of the "Boomer Generation" in terms of population (rather than shared cultural traits). All the US charts I can find have a granularity of groups of five birth years, but the England and Wales chart in the link has a granularity of one year. Assuming the US demographic is similar—which it may well not be—the result is a little surprising to me.

What you get is two baby booms that together span a slightly greater number of years than does the conventionaly defined single group of "baby boomers"—the additional years occurring surprisingly at the early side.

The first boomlet is rather short-lived and occurs during the years 1945 to 1948. Then births decline through 1954 to an unusually low number, afterwards rising again till another boom is begun in 1962, which lasts until 1970.

Because of the differences between the US and the UK in terms of when the war ended, the US's boom may have started a bit later. England/Wales could have had that first boomlet because of their war ending, but I don't know why it suddenly stopped for six years. The US may have none of these patterns.

The US charts show, however, that the US's boom peaked in the range of years in which I was born, 1964, indicating that by this measure I am solidly in the boomer generation—even though I've always thought of the boomers as people slightly younger than my parents (born in 43 and 45), with my cohort being right at the end of the boomer generation or even as part the following Gen X.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:24 AM on August 29, 2007


Only if you consider *any* subscription service a pyramid scheme. The money from new sales funds the existing customer base in almost every industry.

I'm not sure I understand that comment. But in any case, I didn't mean to be pejorative when I called it a "pyramid scheme." I only meant to convey the fact that benefits paid out to the old are funded by taxes paid by the young. There is a tipping point at which the former group grows and becomes top heavy, and can't be supported by the shrinking latter group. This is how pyramid schemes fail, and this is how, say, Social Security will eventually fail (absent some other intervention).
posted by pardonyou? at 9:26 AM on August 29, 2007


Smoke up, Johnny!
posted by exit at 9:32 AM on August 29, 2007


We should apply the obvious solution before it's too late.
posted by davy at 9:33 AM on August 29, 2007


On preview, dammit, urbanwhaleshark already posted a magical comment that didn't show up here till after I posted mine. Really! I blame MI5!

Anyway. Hey UWS, GMTA.
posted by davy at 9:37 AM on August 29, 2007


"Of course a better solution would be to resume taxing people who aren't workers but have tons of money anyway."

But poor Paris Hilton needs every penny! It's hard being such a good example to America's tweens!
posted by davy at 9:39 AM on August 29, 2007


This is how pyramid schemes fail, and this is how, say, Social Security will eventually fail (absent some other intervention).

Social Security isn't in that bad a shape, given minor tweaks like raising the cap (making it slightly less pension and more insurance) and that the Greenspan deal wrt trillions in treasuries it owns will be redeemable from the general fund when the time comes later this century, 202x ~ 205x.

Now, Medicare, there's a true unsustainable pyramid scheme for ya.

~~

EB, my parents were born the same years as yours, slightly ahead of the postwar baby boom. The first Gen X mention I saw was a Time Magazine article from 1990, with the term referring to people 18 ~ 25 or so.

Both Japan and the US had a baby boom echo, where the baby boom had children, in the late 60s and early 70s.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:44 AM on August 29, 2007


hmm, I wrong about the baby boom echo. It started in the late 70s, and Gen X was defined by Time in 1990 as 18-2x, and meant to refer to the people born between the baby boom and baby boom echo, and essentially everyone who came of age during the Reagan years.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:57 AM on August 29, 2007


Thanks for that info, Heywood Mogroot.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:01 AM on August 29, 2007


I've always been unclear on why this is a bad thing. Sure (as the article says) the national growth rate will slow for awhile. But at the same time, those of us who will be working while it happens will see the value of our labor increase a great deal, since the labor supply will decrease so much. Look forward to silly jobs (parking lot attendants, ticket-takers, etc.) and perhaps even some less-silly jobs being replaced by automation. This is good, since in the end it will result in vastly increased productivity (not to mention increase job satisfaction as people move from menial work to the better jobs that can't be automated).

Hopefully we can also look forward to unions losing the vast majority of their power (who needs a union if there's a bidding war for you?) and free trade losing many of its opponents (who cares about plant closures if everyone at the plant can get work somewhere else?)
posted by goingonit at 10:20 AM on August 29, 2007


Actually, the Soylent Green analogy doesn't qite fit, as what this thread's about is overpopulation only among the old. The Logan's Run analogy is closer: a mandatory cutoff date, say one's 60th birthday. (Yes, in the book it's 21 and 30 in the movie, but we're not talking Science Fiction here.) For the future's sake women would be limited to two births in their lifetimes, one of each sex, with no replacements or substitutions allowed -- except that those wishing to raise more will be allowed to adopt one orphan.

Of course we could just let this current problem work itself out: those who are now on the verge of senility will just have to be poor when they're old and to have their medical care emphasize pain relief and a good death (say free Prozac and Oxycontin) rather than clutching at a life of steadily decreasing quality with pacemakers, electric wheelchairs and surgery after surgery. It's a simple fact of life that people are not built to live forever.

That said, the real problem is planetary overpopulation, too many people of all ages all over the Earth, a few regional anomalies notwithstanding -- Europe always had fewer people than China and India. Let's take a responsible global perspective.
posted by davy at 10:22 AM on August 29, 2007


More and more people can't afford to retire or they can't afford health insurance, so they'll work until they're carried out horizontally.

Looming crisis averted.


That's part of the crisis, I think. Wasn't so long ago the same baby boomers were eagerly pushing the earlier generation into retirement and taking no excuses. The longer they stay in, the more limited the opportunities for the generation to follow (who have felt shut out in many ways already).

I don't think it's the numbers that are going to kill us as much as it is the huge expectations the baby boomers have. Anyone who works in customer service has seen this already.
posted by troybob at 10:53 AM on August 29, 2007


pardonyou: This is how pyramid schemes fail, and this is how, say, Social Security will eventually fail (absent some other intervention).
Social security can be completely stable. Since people are expected to work more years then they're retired, there should always be more workers than retired people. Factor in that retirees need less income than the working generation, and we can see that some stable point must exist.

Pyramids fail when people expect to take out more than they put in, not when it follows the social security model. It does get a bit more complicated in real life, but nothing that's impossible to deal with. For example, the baby boomer generation over-paid to create a surplus for when the worker/retiree ratio drops, increases in life-expectancy can be offset by increases in the retirement age, etc...
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:07 AM on August 29, 2007


Social security can be completely stable. Since people are expected to work more years then they're retired, there should always be more workers than retired people. Factor in that retirees need less income than the working generation, and we can see that some stable point must exist.

Not so sure about that. Washington Post, April 24, 2007:
The trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare issued new warnings yesterday that the two programs are becoming unaffordable but pushed back slightly their predictions of when the crunch will hit.

By 2017, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes, the trustees said in their annual report. The program's trust fund is projected to be exhausted by 2041, one year later than estimated last year.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:23 AM on August 29, 2007


The whole SSI is going bankrupt thing is bullshit and a GOP con. The program won't have any problems until 2057 or something thereabouts and it would take only slight changes to avert any problems then. The alarmism about SSI has everything to do with the GOP push to privatize social security and their larger attempt to undo the New Deal.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:31 AM on August 29, 2007


"The whole SSI is going bankrupt thing is bullshit and a GOP con. "

I sure the hell hope so, SSI's how I pay my rent. (What about you, Bligh?)
posted by davy at 11:36 AM on August 29, 2007


Yep. And everything else. And it ain't much.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:48 AM on August 29, 2007


The whole SSI is going bankrupt thing is bullshit and a GOP con. The program won't have any problems until 2057 or something thereabouts and it would take only slight changes to avert any problems then.

That's good to know. I still have memories of Bill Clinton's State of the Union address where he said: "Save. Social. Security. First!"

In other words, I agree that the fight over social security's future is highly politicized, and don't doubt that the plight is exaggerated. But "The whole SSI is going bankrupt thing is bullshit..." isn't much more informed or accurate than "SSI is going bankrupt! We must privatize!"
posted by pardonyou? at 11:51 AM on August 29, 2007


THERE IS NO SANCTUARY.
posted by katillathehun at 12:03 PM on August 29, 2007


In the book there IS a Sanctuary, a colony on Mars. But by the time the movie came out it was clear that the answer to Bowie's question was "NO."
posted by davy at 12:30 PM on August 29, 2007


pardonyou: the trustees were/are well aware of the baby boom, which is why they created a surplus. True, by 2017, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes, but you're forgetting that until 2017 (and prior to today), Social Security takes in more in taxes than it pays out. The plan was to sock this surplus away in T-Bills, then use it when the baby boom generation retires.

A valid argument would be if their math was off or not, but not by calling the surplus as non-existent just because Bush wants to use it to close his budget deficit.

The Unlocked Box
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:36 PM on August 29, 2007


"Bush wants to use it to close his budget deficit."

Gee, I can think of another, progressive and peaceful, way to do that...
posted by davy at 12:56 PM on August 29, 2007


The WORLD is going bankrupt! We must hold our privates!
posted by davy at 12:57 PM on August 29, 2007


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