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The Elderly Boom

The shadow of the Earth can be seen on the moon following a total lunar eclipse viewed early Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007, near Greenwater, Wash.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
The number of people age 65 and older more than tripled over the past half-century to a record 420 million worldwide. In general, seniors are better educated, retiring earlier and living longer.

Vast differences in quality of life exist between older people living in the United States and Japan, for example, and those in Malaysia, Costa Rice and other developing countries where the biggest increases in this population are expected.

The U.S. government study being released Thursday also shows the
predicted increase will test governments' ability to address health
care, retirement benefits and other issues that affect seniors,
experts say.

"Global aging is occurring at a rate never seen before and we
will need to pay close attention to how countries respond to the
challenges and opportunities of growing older," said Nancy Gordon,
associate director for demographic programs at the U.S. Census
Bureau.

The 65-and-older population increased from 131 million in 1950
to 420 million in 2000, said the report from the Census Bureau and
the National Institute on Aging.

Over the 1990s, the increase was about 2 percent each year. The
one-year increase of 9.5 million between 1999 and 2000 was
unprecedented, the report said.

In the United States, the 2000 census showed about 12 percent,
or 35 million of the nation's 281.4 million people, were at least
65. That compares with 13 percent of the country's 248.7 million
people a decade ago.

By 2030, one in every five Americans will be 65 as the baby boom
generation ages, the study projects.

Among the other forecasts:

  • Italy and Japan, at 28 percent, are predicted to have the
    greatest percentage of older people.
  • More than one Japanese in 10 is expected to be at least 85 in
    2030.
  • Southeast Asian and less developed countries are expected to
    have the biggest percentage increases between now and 2030. The
    65-and-over populations in Singapore, Malaysia, Colombia and Costa
    Rica are expected to at least triple in size.

    The findings raises important public policy questions for the coming decades, experts said. Can countries provide adequate health care? What kind of pension and retirement systems can retirees expect?

    "European problems are complicated by much earlier ages of retirement and more generous pension benefits," said Paul Hewitt,
    director of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies' global aging initiative.

    Compared to other countries' pension systems, Social Security in
    the United States "can be counted on," said Suzanne Paul, of the
    New York-based group Global Action on Aging. "What we have is a
    dream."

    Demographers said better health care means people are living longer. They are accounting for a larger percentage of the population because the birth rate has declined in most countries, said John Haaga, an analyst with the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization.

    Results from the report ere based on data and estimates from the Census Bureau, the United Nations, and other international organizations such as the European Union.

    By Genaro C. Armas © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed