Americans not worried about aging population, poll says
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
The world is getting older, and depending on where you live that's a problem or isn't, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.
The survey of 22,425 people in 21 countries, predicts that by mid-century about 1.5 billion people will be 65 years and older, which would mark the largest cohort of seniors in world history and an indication that civilization is not re-populating the planet.
Japan, South Korea, China, Germany and Spain had the highest number of respondents who said aging poses a serious problem, while those polled in the United States were generally not as concerned with the problem of old age.
The problem with an aging population arises when the number of seniors surpasses the number of young, working people, and the government or the younger generation must then economically support the growing older generation, according to Pew Research.
The survey, released Jan. 30, used population data gathered by the United Nations to calculate the population growth of the countries represented.
Although public opinion in the U.S. didn't indicate much concern on the issue, the aging population will contribute to health care expenditures rising to 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product by 2050, according to a USA Today report on the Pew poll.
Despite this rise in health care costs, only 26 percent of the U.S. population considers the aging population a problem compared with 87 percent of Japan and 55 percent of Germany, according to Pew.
The difference in opinion between the U.S. and other countries can be partly attributed to many of the countries surveyed by Pew are showing little to no population growth, while the U.S. is expected to add 89 million more people by 2050, USA Today reported.
Olga Khazan of The Atlantic wrote that Americans can thank the large influx of immigrants for mitigating the challenges posed by an aging population.
"Immigrants not only help inflate our overall population, but they also tend to have more children than Americans do," Khazan wrote. "Mexican-American women, for example, have 2.5 children on average, and white American women have 1.8."
Without immigrants, Khazan said the U.S. would have the same challenges as much of Asia and Europe.
In a special article for CNN, Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center, wrote that Americans are generally less worried about the issue of old age because the majority expect that the elderly to take care of themselves — a sentiment apparently shared by the U.S. government.
Stokes pointed to the relatively low Social Security payments in America compared to the generous pension plans in parts of Europe.
"This is not the case in a number of other aging societies, where expectations are high, spending as a portion of the economy and spending increases are likely to be greater than in the United States — and the ability to pay for such outlays remains an open question," Stokes wrote.
Sam Clemence works as an editorial assistant for the opinion section and as a reporter for the enterprise team.
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