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Debt and the Demographics of Aging

Authors: Robert N. Butler, International Longevity Center, and Michael W. Hodin, Adjunct Senior Fellow
May 24, 2010
Washington Times

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Greece's recent fiscal meltdown wasn't caused just by carefree government spending. It was an inevitable result of the country's aging population, which has long been accustomed to extravagant health care and retirement benefits. This is what happens when 19th-century policy prescriptions are applied to 21st-century realities.

That's why the most recent European bailout package is only a short-term remedy to the complex issue of global aging. For decades, Europe has built a health-and-welfare system designed around providing support to its citizens at what in an earlier time might have been the very first signs of senior citizenship. Greeks are eligible for government pensions at age 53. The problem will only get worse. Over the next 40 years, a third of Europeans will be older than 60. The debt crisis is really just a proxy for the aging crisis that is coming to every country in the world.

Indeed, the global scope of the graying demographics are well known - and irreversible. Like Europe, Japan and Korea will by midcentury have 40 percent of their populations older than 60. In China, at least a quarter of the population will be elderly. In the United States, the number of citizens older than 65 will double during the next 20 years. These demographic trends will define our social and economic needs and government policy for decades. It requires a radical new way of thinking, which includes a 21st-century approach to policies that align with the longevity revolution begun in the latter part of the 20th century.

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