This One Chart About Global Aging Changes Everything

"For the first time ever there are now more people in the world older than 65 than younger than 5."


From the excellent Twitter account Ninja Economics comes the incredible chart below showing that "for the first time ever there are now more people in the world older than 65 than younger than 5."

At first blush, this might seem like a vaguely interesting fact and not much else. But in reality, this development will affect virtually every aspect of our future lives. First and foremost, it means that the global human population will start to fall, since aging populations have fewer kids (and as Reason's Ronald Bailey notes, global fertility rates have been falling for years). We'll likely reach a peak population of under 10 billion people around 2070.

The impact on the world's economy will be staggering, especially since there are effectively no known cases where long-term economic growth takes place against the backdrop of a shrinking population. Individual countries might prosper if they can lure more people to move within their borders, but the whole planet may start to resemble Japan, which is 30 years into its "lost decade" of weak economic growth and population decline. That means things will get weird:

To get a sense of what happens when a country ages dramatically and doesn't replenish its population with younger residents, look to ultra-restrictionist Japan, which is the prime example of a First World "demographic disaster." Japan, which has fewer people than it did in 2000, is suffering a slow-motion economic collapse characterized by weak-to-nonexistent economic growth and an erosion of quality of life. As The Weekly Standard's Jonathan V. Last wrote in What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster, Japan's "continuously falling birthrates" has given rise to "a subculture that dresses dogs like babies and pushes them around in carriages, and a booming market in hyper-realistic-looking robot babies."

The aging of the planet definitely calls even more attention to the problems with old-age, social-welfare entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, which are funded by younger workers. Social Security, for instance, will be insolvent by the mid-2030s. As Eric Boehm writes,

Maintaining Social Security's long-term solvency would require "the equivalent of immediately raising payroll taxes by 22 percent, reducing all benefits by about 17 percent, reducing new benefits by 20 percent, or some combination of the three," according to a [Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget] analysis.

What will an older world look like, besides more wrinkly, liver-spotted, and, if current trends hold, STD-ridden? It's not at all clear. One of the great things about capitalism and free markets is that they are constantly changing what gets produced and consumed. "Creative destruction," Joseph Schumpeter famously wrote, is "the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one." For all the recent talk about "late capitalism," the increasingly capitalistic global economy that has emerged over the past half-century or more has been pretty great for most people. In fact, for the first time ever, more than half of the world's population "live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered 'middle class' or 'rich.'"

That is no small achievement and it should give us some faith that we'll figure out a way to increase living standards even in a world whose population is shrinking. Then again, politics might rear its ugly head and put the kibosh on the global market order. Here's Schumpeter again (writing in the early 1940s but sounding like he's eavesdropping on the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination): "The public mind has by now so thoroughly grown out of humor with [capitalism] as to make condemnation of capitalism and all its works almost a requirement of the etiquette of discussion."

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  1. Japan’s “continuously falling birthrates” has given rise to “a subculture that dresses dogs like babies and pushes them around in carriages, and a booming market in hyper-realistic-looking robot babies.”

    In other words, San Francisco.

    1. Wouldn’t it be easier and more rewarding just to have a baby? What the fuck is wrong with people? I don’t have a baby for the same reason I don’t have a dog or a robot baby.

      1. A Philip K. Dick world with robot babies instead of electric sheep.

      2. Babies are a lot of work – and you can’t take time off of raising a baby.

        Children are massively expensive and though everyone *says* they love kids, the vast majority of children still are ‘unplanned’ ‘accidents’. They come with huge opportunity costs and simply aren’t as economically valuable as they were in previous generations. In fact, the richer you get, the less valuable your children become – and so birthrates start to plummet.

        1. And besides, the very ability to have a baby is a social construct.

        2. WTF? I love my more than I have loved anyone outside my wife I guess. And the “vast majority” are unplanned? Sure out that?

          If you want to grow up to be a bitter childless spinster, have at it.

          1. Married 42 years. We chose not to have children and quite happy about it, thank you very much. People have, or do not have, children for very varied and personal reasons. By your reasoning I have every right to call you selfish. But I do not. I do not feel that way and feel it is rude for you to conjecture motive. We all chose our own paths. Why is our business, you have no right to criticize an individual’s choices on procreation or assume their mindset.

      3. You might be missing what’s really going on. People are choosing other things over parenthood. But most humans have a desire to nurture something. So they get a pet. Witness how childless people treat their pets, especially dogs. It’s a baby substitute, plain as day.

        Dogs used to have names like Spot and Fido. Cats were called Ginger or Zippy. Now they have cute human names, often names picked from the trendy lists. They are never to be referred to as “the dog”, but by their given name. They get presents on their birthdays, and at Christmas. They go to the vet for the slightest ailment and have their own insurance plans.

        [hint: kids, become a vet; just as much money as a regular doctor with a fraction of the regulations, and better hours]

        But pets in families are treated quite differently. They are usually there because the kids want something to play with. They get roughed up and are often relegated to second-class citizens, often put out at night, and never allowed to sit on a lap and drive a car like some poodles single women have are allowed to do.

        They wear out quickly, which is a plus, since nothing loses its allure like an old pet, and if it all goes horribly wrong, you can just give them the injection. Try doing that with a pissy little 12-year-old.

        1. Yup. Honestly, I think it’s pretty sad and kinda weird. There’s a reason old cat ladies are a thing.

          As much as most people will SAY out loud they’re glad they didn’t have kids etc… Almost every person I know who has said that shit 1000 times, when they’ve been drunk or in a moment of honesty, they’ve said they regret it. I dated an older chick for some years, and she basically hit her wall while we were dating… I overheard her saying to a friend, while tossed, that she always thought she never wanted kids… But now she really wanted them blah blah blah. 99% chance she was actually infertile, both from not getting knocked up while we dated and other reasons.

          But I think most people just lie to themselves that they are REALLY happy they didn’t have kids. You do get some freedom, but you also miss out on perhaps the biggest and most important thing in life.

          Also, just mathematically, how many people have you ever heard say they regret not having kids. A number well over zero, not even counting that many of them are probably lying about being fine with it. Now how many people have you ever heard who DID have kids say they wish they didn’t? I can’t remember a single person, EVER. So between the 2, it seems remorse about not having them is far more common.

    2. You know what SF is not? A place developing virtual qts.

  2. Why are we talking about countries when this is the world?

      1. Don’t worry about the demographic crisis… Illegal sub-humans (who pay into Social Security but have no chance of pulling bennies) will save our asses!!! We the native-born will enslave the slaves, then bitch and moan about the horrible moochers (while we are the REAL moochers) called illegal sub-humans!!!

        See “The Truth About Undocumented Immigrants and Taxes” (in quotes) in your Google search window will take you straight there, hit number one… AKA For details about us natives mooching off of the taxes of the illegal sub-humans…

        1. Ever heard of selectively choosing your evidence? If NO American is a net positive tax payer until the earn around $50-60K a year… How are people that earn $20-30K a year, AND have far more children, supposed to be net positive tax payers???

          Oh, they’re not, it’s just a leftists lie that concentrates on a single type of tax to lie to people… I see.

  3. The US and Canada will weather this trend much better than the rest of the world thanks to our immigration policies. People want to move here and we need them to maintain our global dominance.

    So take that haters.

    1. LOL

      Only if we let in the right ones! Illiterate peasants are not going to make the US or Canada wealthy 1st world nations… Which is what it actually desirable.

      People knock Japan, but their economy is doing fine on a PER CAPITA basis. Which is the only thing that really matters for quality of life.

      I’m fine with shit tons of engineers, programmers, etc, but if we let in hordes of illiterate peasants, it will NOT improve quality of life. Keep in mind 5 year old children are sent on the trains alone in Tokyo. That’s because Japan has a cohesive and healthy society that isn’t filled with inter-ethnic low boil warfare. They don’t have tons of impoverished 1st generation immigrants who don’t know how to navigate their society. On and on. What’s that worth?

      1. Didn’t America build itself on an influx of immigrants and slaves that were illiterate?

        Also you talk of “inter-ethnic low boil warfare” but seriously, do you really believe that if you composed a society of Japanese, Taiwanese and Singaporeans that you would suddenly have inter-ethnic warfare and high crime rates? There is often this line of thinking among Americans and other westerners almost as if to say a lack of racial or ethnic segregation or homogeneity is what causes crime. But these varying Asian ethnic groups share a common cultural attribute that emphasizes social conformity over individuality. Consider that white Americans commit murder at three times the rate of Asian Americans on a per capita basis. Asians are still more law abiding when living in a diverse society.

        1. Immigration in 1850 is NOT immigration in 2019. Back then anybody with a strong back was a productive member of society, and not a burden on their fellow man because no welfare state, and most jobs did not require education… Now anybody making less than $60K a year mooches off of me because they’re a net negative tax payer… And I don’t want to have my taxes jacked so idiot Progs can pat themselves on the back for letting in another illiterate peasant family.

          Also, going forward work is likely to only get even MORE technical. I think we really will see a job apocalypse for low skilled people… We’re really already in the middle of it if you look at how unskilled labors value has stagnated over the last few decades.

          As for the other bit… IMO I believe an Asian version of America would work fine. Tests that have been done that show people naturally distrust people that don’t look like them, from the time of being literal babies, so at this point I really do believe that being able to “pass” and blend in is key. This is why European immigration melded us into a cohesive society fairly quickly as we took in new European immigrants, but non European immigrants have largely not ever fully melted into the pot.

          Japanese, Chinese, etc could move together and integrate in their own societies fine with a generation or 2… But if you started dumping off millions of Africans or Arabs into Japan, they would instantly see the problems we have. Like it or not, our biology is implicitly biased in favor of those that look similar, and BOTH sides will naturally “other” the other groups that don’t fit in.

          Crime rates correlate PERFECTLY with IQ, within and between ethnic groups. White people with IQs of 85 have similar crime rates to blacks with 85 IQs… The difference is there is a smaller percentage of whites at that low IQ point, and even fewer Asians. I believe higher Asian IQs are why they have lower crime rates, because the studies on this subject are sound.

          You can believe whatever you like about WHY different ethnic groups consistently have these massive IQs gaps, whether it is genetic or environmental… But it explains 100% of the difference in outcomes between ethnic groups. Until we’ve discovered FOR SURE why these gaps exist, it’s frankly not a bad reason for keeping out low skilled people too… Especially since most evidence leans towards genetics causing most of the difference, even though that is obviously heresy to the egalitarians.

  4. >>>we’ll figure out a way to increase living standards even in a world whose population is shrinking

    we’ve figured it out for 6000 years we’ll be fine

    1. Buffering effects are people working to increasingly older ages, increasing automation and AI, populations becoming increasingly more urbanized.

  5. Fortunately, we will be having robots and AI to help with this supposed problem.

  6. I think rape gangs would solve this quite quickly.

    1. That’s your solution for everything.

      1. Is it not a solution to all the worlds problems? If not, I’ve been misinformed.

  7. We’ll likely reach a peak population of under 10 billion people around 2070.

    Imagine living in 1918 and making a prediction about 1970 (and ignore Olaf Stapledon for a moment).

    I expect to either be an effective brain in a jar, an avatar in a wholly digital construct, both, or a cog as some unconscious part of a higher-level simulacra indistinguishable from that situation no later than 2050.

    1. Olaf Stapledon

      Damn. Never heard of him. Need to read him now. Thanks!

      1. Now that I’m reading some of his stuff:

        It’s so hokey and kitschy in a “Things to Come” sort of way, with everything centered around the aeroplane and everything. In 300-400 years, the first “world state” collapses because they run out of … coal. LOL!

    2. You will be a nervous system and some basic organs stuffed into a warehouse with more and more bits cut off each year as technology advances so you can be packed ever more efficiently.

      ‘Maximise happiness’ they told the AI.

      1. Hey, if it liberates people from the drudgery of factory work and into the hyper-connected online world, it’s all worth it.

  8. Cheer up, Nick-
    The Internet Of The Dead has re-elected Zuckerberg as President For Life.

  9. Just “Get the hell off of my lawn!!!”

  10. The population shrinking after 2070 projection was blown up years ago. It’s not supposed to go negative in the projections at any point now.

    1. But the science was settled!

    2. Ehhh, I dunno.

      All these predictions have more room for error than you can shake a stick at. The current decline has kicked in far faster than was being predicted 10 or 20 years ago. Even places like India are basically on trend to be below replacement, when that was thought to not happen for eons just a few decades ago.

      It really all hinges on Africa. That disaster area is basically the only place projected to increase in population beyond a couple decades from now. If they realize that 6 kids is retarded, and they can actually afford to eat if they only have 1 or 2, even these estimates could be high. Some reasonable project we’ll cap out at more like 8.something or 9.

      We’ll just have to wait and see.

  11. For a long time, living to age 65 was an achievement. Then we got to a point that there was a good number of people between age 65-70. That is a 5 year span. like 0-5. Now, in the West living to age 80 is common and many people are making it to their 90s. We are going to have to adjust or stop giving people over age 70 medical treatment.

    I think most people, want us to learn to adjust.

  12. “Japan, which has fewer people than it did in 2000, is suffering a slow-motion economic collapse characterized by weak-to-nonexistent economic growth and an erosion of quality of life.”

    10 people with capital stock X.
    5 die, leaving 5 people with capital stock X.

    Are those people now *worse* off?

    Say it with me: per capita

    Japan’s *per capita* income has been climbing along a similar curve as the US, even with their much aging population (and therefore fewer workers).

    And Japan will still be Japan after the Globalists have sold the US off to replacement populations to keep aggregate GDP high.

    1. Yup.

      I was going to say this if nobody else did. Their GDP per capita has been doing perfectly fine, and THAT is the only measure that really matters in terms of material happiness goes.

      An interesting thing is happening too… Because of the slow decline in population, some of the suburbs of Tokyo you can now but houses for the same amount as a friggin’ car. The inner city is still pricey, but I’m talking houses in regular sub 1 hour commuting distance.

      How is that not a POSITIVE for young people coming up in the world? It is.

      One of the reasons regular people can’t afford to live in the nice, pretty parts of the country anymore is because real estate prices have been pushed up by cramming in far more people into those areas. When half as many people were competing for real estate in San Diego, it was a LOT less expensive.

      And then there is the fact that Japan will actually stay Japanese. Cosmotarians seem to have a knee jerk denial that the very concept of a “culture” even exists, or if it does that it is anything good… All while reveling in a culture that is 98.5% European in origin… Not realizing that without that culture, all they supposedly care about will no longer exist. Fucking idiots.

  13. […] For the first time there’s more people worldwide aged 65+ than aged 5 & younger 7 by erikig | 0 comments on Hacker News. […]

  14. […] For the first time there’s more people worldwide aged 65+ than aged 5 & younger 7 by erikig | 0 comments on Hacker News. […]

  15. […] For the first time there’s more people worldwide aged 65+ than aged 5 & younger 7 by erikig | 0 comments on Hacker News. […]

  16. […] For the first time there’s more people worldwide aged 65+ than aged 5 & younger 10 by erikig | 1 comments on Hacker News. […]

  17. […] For the first time there’s more people worldwide aged 65+ than aged 5 & younger 7 by erikig | 0 comments on Hacker News. […]

  18. This article makes population decrease sound pretty bad, but I think
    it exaggerates. A reduction in the fraction of working-age people
    might be just the thing to counteract expected loss of millions of
    jobs due to automation. Robots will help take care of infirm old
    people. Reduced demand for food and other agricultural products could
    avoid destruction of the last pockets of forest.

    Above all, remember that the alternative is not more of the status
    quo. We are headed for global disaster due to global heating. Less
    population will help slow this down, reducing the disaster and
    bringing us somewhat closer to avoiding disaster. I believe we need
    policies to discourage reproduction so as to bring the Earth’s human
    population down to an easily sustainable level — perhaps one billion.

    1. Your first bit is right. We will get through it fine. The 2nd bit is overblown, BUT having fewer people will be a positive. Half as many people trying to live in the nicest places on earth = lower costs to live there. More land a resources per capita will also be nice.

  19. Whatever the case, this stuff won’t be as big a problem as many make it out to be. As has already been mentioned Japan is doing fine on a GDP per capita basis. That’s the real important number.

    A world with fewer people will have more resources available per person. The very fact that population will be shrinking will in fact leave us with an excess of some things, like housing stock.

    Imagine if almost no new houses needed to be built, what a BOON that would be to economy. All those people currently working in new construction could be doing something more productive, because all the hard work of building those places in the past had already been done. People will be able to move into more desirable areas more cheaply too.

    My only issue is with the particulars of how it is going down. In a “perfect world” it would be better to have a slow slide, versus fall off a cliff. If we were hanging at 1.9 or 2.0 kids per female we would be declining, but it would be slow and steady, and not jolt things too much. The birthrates of 1.2 or 1.3 in some places leaves the population being almost cut in half in essentially a single generation, and that is a bit much, and is where most of the semi legit problems enter in.

    Also, WHO is having kids is problematic. In the 1st world nations it is mostly lower class people, which is not good. IQ is heritable from your parents, and economic class is generally indicative of IQ at the statistical level. So Idiocracy is a real thing, even if it would in fact take generations to make a big difference… Even in the first generation the advantages of having richer/more put together parents pays off, no matter the long term effects on IQ. More people born in McManshions is simply better than more people born in trailer parks.

    Then there’s essentially the same problem on an international level. The countries breeding the most are the poorest, least educated, and most dysfunctional. Under the best of circumstances, at a statistical level, it takes generations for a family to go from illiterate peasant parents, to upper middle class professional. And that’s assuming these places even can get their shit together at all, which is far from certain in many cases. So that the world is losing all the people who are already “there,” and being replaced by those that won’t be there for generations… It’s sub optimal.

    In short, hopefully middle middle class and upper middle class people start hitting replacement rate or close to it again… AND hopefully 1st and 2nd world countries likewise get close to that overall, and the sharp declines happen in poor places.

    This is the best possible road forward. Problem is there’s really no way to get this to happen* outside of changing cultural views as needed in the different populations in question. People are working at convincing poor 3rd worlders to have fewer kids, we just need to work on smug upper middle class folks in the civilized world now!

    *Unless you’re a proper hardcore authoritarian… But the left seems to want to encourage the best and brightest to not reproduce at all, sooooo fat chance of that happening.

  20. Neither the author nor the commenters have noted that the youngest countries are also the poorest. This is especially true of the African continent. These will be the countries from which much of the first world will be drawing workers. Much of the European, Canada and the US will see larger influx of darker immigrants with different traditions/religions. The social effects will likely be profound. Question is will xenophobia increase or decrease? Either way it is likely to be unsettling.

  21. The population will not decline by 2070 because aging is going to become a thing of the past. Natural health extension is already being implemented through sirtuin activating molecules and scientists are already reversing the epigenetic clock in cells in the lab. Clinical trials on humans will begin in a few years.

    Also it is absurd the way some people attribute “capitalism” to the expansion of the global middle class when most of that is happening in Asia and those are NOT free markets. It’s as if “capitalism” gets to take credit for anything remotely “markety” even if rigged by a one-party dictatorship, while socialism must take blame for all ills in the world despite all the most prosperous countries in the world practicing a healthy degree of socialistic policies.

    The increase in the middle class is something to celebrate but I believe we would be a whole lot further along if CRONY capitalism didn’t dominate the world order, from nominally “capitalist” countries like the US, to nominally “socialist” countries like the PRC. There is a reason people speak ill of capitalism and that’s because capitalism isn’t working.

    The “free market” is rhetoric and not reality. Creative destruction is not occurring because the “haves” are having their asset values inflated by global monetary policy at the expense of people who work for a living. This is because the “haves” have also bought all the politicians. They wage wars in Iraq and Libya and elsewhere for their own profit while the working classes are the ones burying their loved ones, dealing with an influx of refugees from the middle east and going without public investment because all the money is spent on warfare.

  22. […] Population Triangle. Jose described the problem with populations in the developed work. In the past there would be many children, fewer parents and even fewer grandparents and older people. Now most developed nations (e.g. Germany and Japan) have shrinking populations as not enough children are born to even maintain population numbers. This will have major impacts on nations and economies. Coincidentally our son, Adrian, sent us at the time we were talking a link to an article describing exactly this issue. […]

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