Even as many countries are aging, world population has been growing very rapidly. The most recent figures from the United Nations indicate that the population has increased from 3 to 7 billion within the past 50 years, compared to an increase of just 1 billion the century before. While decreasing average fertility will slow this growth rate, world population is expected to rise to 8 to 10.5 billion by 2050. Moreover, almost all of this growth will occur in countries that are much poorer than those where population growth has stopped and which are now aging rapidly.
As the poorer countries get bigger, they can use the demographic gift of a high proportion of relatively young productive people to boost economic growth. This is what many of the now richer (and aging) countries have done. But this boost is not automatic. The lessons learned are that countries need to
- Educate the young well so that they enter the labor force – and remain productive because they will likely be retiring at a later age than those who do so today.
- Prepare both young and middle-aged to save and invest today (both through general education and more specific financial literacy programs) so that they have enough to live on to supplement public pensions which are likely to be less in real terms than they are today, when dependency rates are low.
- Encourage younger generations to adopt healthy lifestyles to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases such as lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases that can threaten to bankrupt health systems.