The scariest numbers in the world?

02/02/2010 5:58 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

The scariest numbers I’ve read recently aren’t projections for U.S. debt.

Or how much of the globe’s farmland won’t be usable for farming by 2050.

Or even how many losses the New Jersey Nets will rack up this basketball season. (4-42 and counting right now.)

Nope, the scariest numbers I’ve seen are these about the aging global population.

In 1950 the world’s developed countries had a total population of 64.2 million over the age of 65. Developing countries had a population of 60.6 million over 65.

By 2050 the over-65 population of the developed world is projected at 300 million. That’s a roughly a five-fold increase in a century.

By 2050 developing countries are projected to have a total over-65 population of 1.2 billion.

A group roughly the size of today’s population of China will be over 65 in the developing world.

When you hear someone talking about the worry that China will get old before it gets rich, this is what they’re talking about.

Only it isn’t just China. It’s the developing world. All of it.

Japan is projected to be the world’s oldest country in 2050 with more than 40% of its population over 60. In China only around 30% of the population will be over 60, according to projections.

Taking care of the 40% of Japan’s projected population of 108 million in 2050 that are over 60 years old will be a huge challenge. That’s 43 million people over 60.

But the word “challenge” seems inadequate to describe the task facing China where only 30% of the population will be 60 or older but where the projected population in 2050 is 1,437 million.  30% of that is 431 million people over 60.

Granted 2050 is a way off. But these numbers still leave me speechless.
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