Editor's Note, September 2023
Written by Marian Starkey | Published: September 11, 2023
Raise your hand (or, even better, write a letter to the editor) if you’re sick of reading news articles about the economic devastation that the aging populations of high-income countries will inevitably bring in the coming years and decades. Many journalists, economists, politicians, and businesspeople are hung up on the idea that there’s nothing to be done to protect economies from stagnation as the proportion of elderly people grows in relation to the proportion of working-age people. This reveals a woeful lack of flexibility or creativity on their part.
Is it easier to grow GDP when the working-age population is supporting fewer people of dependent ages? Yes, as long as those working-age people are skilled, educated, and employed. Is it impossible to grow GDP with a rising dependency ratio? No. (We’ll save the discussion about whether raising GDP should still be countries’ default priority for a future issue of this magazine.) As you’ll read about in the feature article by economist Dean Baker that begins on page 14, productivity gains alone should ensure economic solvency in the U.S. as the large cohort of baby boomers moves through their elderly years. He provides examples of how increasing productivity should preserve the economies of other high-income countries as well.
Our communications team (Hannah Evans, Olivia Nater, and me) hosted a virtual event on World Population Day (July 11) to discuss aging and slower population growth in the U.S. You can view the recording here, alongside a blog post and press release on the same subject. We also submitted several opinion pieces to nearly a dozen newspapers around the country, but none of them were printed, we presume because our levelheadedness about aging doesn’t get the same amount of attention (clicks) that alarmist articles about economic implosion receive.
We’ll keep writing letters and columns, and we encourage you to do the same. With enough pressure, newspapers will eventually have to acknowledge that aging is inevitable as countries develop and women gain agency over their childbearing, and that there are myriad ways for economies to adjust to these shifting demographics. At this point, it’s not a matter of whether aging will occur, but of how we can most productively respond to this inexorable phenomenon.