Population aging presents growing challenges for governments that will require changes in national political priorities, the country's institutions and social arrangements.  Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS
Population aging presents growing challenges for governments that will require changes in national political priorities, the country’s institutions and social arrangements. Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS
  • Opinion by Joseph Chamie (portland, usa)
  • Interpress service

Population aging is described as a demographic time bomba humanitarian crisis, a growing burdena citizen security threatsticks against disastera significant risk to global prosperity, a silver tsunamian unprecedented array of challengesa problem for young and old.

Government officials, business leaders, economists, healthcare providers, social organizations, political commentators and others are increasingly calling warning bells over the threatening demographic aging of the population.

Adding to these warning bells is the 2022 Japanese film, Plan 75, which was unveiled in May at the annual Cannes Film Festival. The dystopian film describes a government program that encourages the euthanasia of the elderly to alleviate the burdens of an aging Japanese society.

More recently, an assistant professor of economics at Yale University suggested that older Japanese should come to terms with Japan’s demographic aging. commit “mass suicide”. After raising objections in Japan and elsewhere, he subsequently declared that his proposal was taken out of context. He explained that his remark was intended to address one growing effort to renew Japan’s age-based hierarchies and make room for younger generations in leading positions in business and politics.

The mainstream media regularly reports that government spending on retirement and health care benefits for the elderly is outpacing tax revenue. Even many governments are reportedly fighting to find money to support retirees. Furthermore, current trends, if not reversed, indicate that the growing number of elderly people on the planet constitute a challenge for governments to provide the care needed for them.

People have taken to the streets to protest the government’s proposals to tackle population aging by making changes to benefits and official retirement ages. In France, people have taken to the streets to protest the government’s intention to raise the current age of 62 to receive government benefits.

Likewise in China, pensioners and their supporters are protesting the government’s proposal cuts in benefits for the elderly. And fear the public play at the polls, elected US government officials bend over backwards on their insurance policies, retreats from possible program cuts, and promises that they “will not touch” Social Security or Medicare.

Population aging should not really come as a surprise to government officials and their many economic and political advisers and aides.

For decades demographers and many others have written articles, published books, given presentations and advised government officials and others on the demographic aging of the population result of the continued decline in fertility rate and increased life expectancy.

Despite these significant efforts and clear communication about population aging, governments have not paid up enough attention.

Apparently, governments mistakenly believed that the demographic realities of population aging could simply be ignored because these realities were largely academic matters as well as concerns about the distant future. In fact, these realities were neither largely academic nor concerns about the distant future.

Over the past half century, the median age of the world’s population has increased to 30 years in 2020 from 20 years in 1970, an increase of 10 years. Many countries have reached the 2020 median age well above 35, such as France at 41, South Korea at 43, Italy at 46 and Japan at 48.

In addition, many countries have seen their elderly populations reach unprecedented levels. In the US, for example, more than 1 in 6, or 17 percent, were 65 or older in 2020. That percentage is relatively low in comparison to many other developed countries. In Italy and Japan, the proportion of people aged 65 and over is 24 and 29 percent, respectively (Figure 1).

The aging of the population is indeed increasing challenges for governments as well as for the elderly to come requires changes in national political priorities, the country’s institutions and social arrangements.

Among these challenges are the need for financial support, care and assistance, medical treatment, healthcare and drugs. Such needs are not only increasingly overwhelming in many households, but also strain state resources and the capacity of institutions to provide care for the elderly.

In addition to the financial costs, governments are grappling with major political issues. Population aging rivals national priorities which require financial resources, including defence, economy, employment, education, health care, environment and climate.

Population aging also raises vexing questions about the proper role of government and the responsibility of individuals for their personal well-being in old age. These questions continue to rouse government assemblies and raise concerns about retirement and old-age health care among their citizens.

A lot of the public Considers that the government should be primarily responsible for covering the financial costs and providing the care and support needed for the elderly, as has generally been the case in recent decades in many countries.

Other, but claims that it is not the government’s role to be primarily responsible for providing care and support to the elderly. They believe that the elderly themselves and their families should primarily be responsible for covering the costs and providing the care, support and assistance needed for older people.

The fear of population aging is further complicated by population decline. In the coming years, many countries around the world are facing reductions in the size of their populations due to below replacement fertility rate (Figure 2).

Demographic aging combined with population decline and increased human lifespan forcing governments to address growing financial issues, particularly pension and health care benefits. Many government old-age benefit programs face insolvency in the near future.

Possible options to address these financial issues include reducing pension benefits, limiting eligibility, raising the retirement age, and raising taxes. As expected, reducing benefits, limiting eligibility and raising the retirement age are unpopular with most of the public. While many are in favor of raising taxes to fund pensions and health care for the elderly, businesses and investors generally oppose raising taxes.

The consequences of the demographic reality of population aging are largely inevitable and needs to be fixed. Governments may continue to choose to avoid addressing these consequences. Perhaps they hope that if the demographic realities are ignored, they will somehow magically disappear.

Governments must stop ringing the alarm bells about population ageing. Instead, they must adapt to the demographic reality of population aging. In particular, governments must address the weighty consequences of population aging by making the admittedly difficult but necessary policy and program decisions about official retirement ages, retirement benefits, assistance and health care.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, former head of the UN Population Division and author of numerous publications on population questions, including his latest book, “Population Levels, Trends and Differences”.

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service