Charles Kenny at Businessweek.com gives a smart perspective in response to the recent baby bust scares by folks like Jonathan Last and Joel Kotkin- that one negative effect of lower birthrates will be that there will be too many elderly. The title of his article mirrors his overall assertion: “An Aging Population May Be What the World Needs.”
As Kenny says, “..the Baby Bust doesn’t need to be a disaster. Policymakers and the public will have to adjust to changes in the way we allocate resources and define work, but an older, grayer world may turn out to be a better place.”
Between 1970-2011, the number of people 65+ increased from 5 percent to 9 percent, and according to Kenny will grow to 20 percent by 2050. By then, the global elderly will hit 1.9 billion. And by then, “despite the global population being about 2 billion higher, the absolute number of young people at mid-century will be no larger than today.”
Even so, Kenny says, “The secret to wealth isn’t more young people, it’s more productive people.” He thinks economies can continue to grow, which creates “demand and supplying the resources necessary to care for the elderly,” if they focus on increasing the global productivity of those “fit and keen to work.”
And that calls for better education in especially developing nations. Workers with better education will promote “higher-output employment,” and this will generate more wealth for countries when they have smaller populations.
With fewer children we’re more likely to see that better education happen. With contraception comes better family planning, and with infant mortality rates declining by 2/3rds from 1970-2011, the babies women do have are more likely to “survive and thrive.”
And education is part of the thriving. Kenny indicates that, “Education rates have been rising rapidly, especially among girls. We’re close to seeing every child on the planet complete primary education. By 2050, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis predicts, more than four out of five adults worldwide will have completed junior, secondary, or higher education.”
Lower birthrates may mean more elderly, but the answer to demographic issues that come as a result is not to bring more young people into the world. This is an outmoded mindset and needs to be treated that way.
The answer lies in focusing on the benefits of the demographic trend, and figuring out how to continue to grow economies given this trend (if it really is a trend – there are predictions that the birth rates will rise again as the economy continues to strengthen-which is another reason not to fear the baby bust rhetoric). In this vein, business leaders and economics, demography and aging experts need to turn more of their attention to devising policies that facilitate healthy economies with smaller families and more elderly.
With this demographic trend come many benefits, starting with finding ways to build the productivity of the billions who are already here, and fostering family planning so the children who are brought in are more likely to be educated to contribute to that global productivity.
What other benefits do you think there are with declining birthrates…even with the increasing of the aged?