An Aging Population Is the Most Serious Problem for Developed Countries

An Aging Population Is the Most Serious Problem for Developed Countries

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That the population of the world and especially the developed world is ageing is something we have heard more than once. Driven by decreasing fertility rates and a sustained increase in life expectancy, many developed countries are now bracing themselves for the idea that their fastest growing population is of individuals over 80 years. Any kind of change in the demographics brings about economic and social challenges, and most of these challenges are experienced in the health care and social services. The issue of an ageing population is usually framed depending on the pressures and demands they bring about. Many individuals have argued that policymakers have the ability to enact sensible change that will check any issue resulting from an increase in the graying population. However, despite such positive arguments, there still remains numerous challenges that many developed countries are likely to face because of increasing grey population (Lee, 2003). The question then becomes, are these policies sufficient to check the kind of issues a graying population can bring to developed nations? It is my opinion that such policies will not be able to address the increase of challenges that will result. This article, thus, will take the position that an increase in the ageing population is the most critical challenge any developing nation can ever experience.

While an increase in the ageing population is a reflection of a success story for human kind, of an advance in science, technology, and an improvement on living standards, it also poses significant challenges especially to public institutions that have to adapt to a different national age structure. One of the main challenges of an ageing population has to do with the dramatic increase in the aged and retired population as compared to the decreasing population of working demographics, which in turn leads to political and social pressures on social systems of support. In many of the developed nations, rapid increase in ageing population places a more significant pressure on social security programs. For instance, the social security system in the Unites States may face a significant crisis if no radical changes are implemented. Tax increases, cuts in benefits, massive borrowing, later retirement ages, decrease in standards of living or a combination of any of these elements are now potential painful policies that the government might find necessary to enact in order to support and sustain public retirement programs such as social security and Medicare supported by pay- as- you- go systems (Preston, Himes & Eggers, 1989).

An increasing ageing population is also a crucial challenge for the developed country’s health care systems. As a nation’s population ages, the prevalence of frailty, disability and chronic diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cerebrovascular diseases and cardiovascular diseases, is expected to rise dramatically. Some experts have indicated that most developed countries might turn into substantial nursing homes (Eberstadt, 1997).

The rapidly increasing relative and absolute numbers of older individuals in developed countries indicate that more and more individuals will be entering into the stage when the risk of developing certain health problems is considerably higher. As it follows, population ageing now presents serious and new challenges for the international and national public health. It is projected that by 2020, three quarters of all deaths in developed countries will be, as a result, of ageing. The largest percentage of these deaths will result from non- communicable diseases like cancers, diabetes and circulatory system diseases. Population ageing has also been indicated to increase the magnitude of mental health challenges. This will occur because of the rising life expectancy of those individuals diagnosed with mental challenges and an ever- increasing number of individuals coming to an age where the risk of developing such disorders is prevalent. Visual loss and visual impairment also increase dramatically with an increase in age. One specific example is cataract. Cataract might have a number of causes and origins, but most of these causes are usually related to the process of ageing (Eberstadt, 1997).

Challenges resulting from an ageing population do not stop at health care and social services. Workers paying for the current retirees pay because they understand that one day they will be the ones collecting from the next generation of public servants. Population ageing leads to development of intense political pressures to change this implied contract with the government by such tactics as decreasing the size of benefits and delaying retirement age. The fear of an increasing ageing population is s strong force in politics in most developed nations, resulting to policies meant to induce individuals to increase the sizes of their families. Such policies include illegalizing contraception and abortion like in Romania, offering financial incentives and prices for births like in France, and instituting generously- well paid leaves policies for those mothers who prefer to stay home and care for their children like in Sweden. Although the increasing costs of the older populations are in a way offset by decreasing private and government costs of raising children as a ratio of young people to the working individuals population decreases, aging population raises the total deadweight loss, a loss which usually results from taxation as most of costs of raising children are private, while the costs of taking care of older people are usually footed by taxpayers (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1990).

Changes in sizes of generations also lead to more challenges. When a small generation pays increased taxes to sustain and support a larger retired generation, as it will soon be the case in most developed countries, most of the individuals in the smaller generation will feel unfairly burdened. Changes in the size of a generation also influence labor markets. When a small generation from the US born in the 1930s reached the labor markets in the 1950s, the generation’s small size as compared to the demand for new employees and workers brought about easy employment, rapid advancement and high wages. However, when the baby- boom, generation reached the labor markets in the mid 1970s, it experienced a significantly low employment, slow promotion and low wages. This picture is made worse by immigration, in addition to, changing patterns of education and international trade (Lee, 2003).

Recently, the world’s richest man expressed concerns that developed countries are facing a chronic challenge from an increase in the ageing population and increasing welfare costs. Carlos Slim argued that developed countries have not recognized the problem and, as a result, have not come up with a solution. He questioned whether nations like France, UK, USA and Germany had the political ability to make the required changes to deal with the prominent challenge. His opinion was that the ageing population is a chronic challenge for the developed challenge. He pointed out that the retirement ages in most developed nations were extremely low as advancing technology moved the labor force from manufacturing industries to the service industry, and that governments have to come up with more approaches to decrease costs incurred in healthcare. Most developed countries base their age of retirement on life expectancy fifty years ago. As a result, individuals are retiring while they are still useful in the workforce. The tycoon argued that the government need to come up with more structural solutions to solve the challenge of increasing healthcare costs incurred, as a result, of increasing ageing population (Alexander, 2012).


The argument of this paper was that an increase in the ageing population is the most critical challenge many developed countries are facing today. The paper highlighted some of the arguments that some individuals have been pointing out that these governments are capable of coming up with new policies to address new challenges brought about by changing demographics. However, the evidence presented in the preceding paragraphs has shown that though these governments have the capacity to develop policies to counter these challenges, there also is a possibility for governments to be overwhelmed by the challenges related to an ageing population. What was realized is that the developed nations are confronted with several issues when it comes to the ageing population that has to be addressed properly.


Alexander, H. (2012). Carlos Slim: Developed nations face ‘chronic problem’ from an ageing population. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

Ehrlich, P. & Ehrlich, A. (1990). The Population Explosion. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Eberstadt, N. (1997).  World population implosion?  Public Interest, 129: 3-22.

Lee, R. (2003). The Demographic Transition: Three Centuries of Fundamental Change. Journal of Economic Perspectives 17(4), 167–190.

Preston, S. H., Himes, C. & Eggers, M.  (1989). Demographic conditions responsible for population aging. Demography 26: 691-704.