Skip to content

Pew: Attitudes about Aging: A Global Perspective

Attitudes about Aging: A Global Perspective

In a Rapidly Graying World, Japanese Are Worried, Americans Aren’t


Aging 01

At a time when the global population of people ages 65 and older is expected to triple to 1.5 billion by mid-century, public opinion on whether the growing number of older people is a problem varies dramatically around the world, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Concern peaks in East Asia, where nearly nine-in-ten Japanese, eight-in-ten South Koreans and seven-in-ten Chinese describe aging as a major problem for their country. Europeans also display a relatively high level of concern with aging, with more than half of the public in Germany and Spain saying that it is a major problem. Americans are among the least concerned, with only one-in-four expressing this opinion.

These attitudes track the pattern of aging itself around the world. In Japan and South Korea, the majorities of the populations are projected to be older than 50 by 2050. China is one of most rapidly aging countries in the world. Germany and Spain, along with their European neighbors, are already among the countries with the oldest populations today, and their populations will only get older in the future. The U.S. population is also expected to get older, but at a slower rate than in most other countries.

Public concern with the growing number of older people is lower outside of East Asia and Europe. In most of these countries, such as Indonesia and Egypt, the proportion of older people in the population is relatively moderate and is expected to remain so in the future.

Aging 02

Pakistan, Nigeria and other countries potentially stand to benefit from future demographic trends. These are countries that currently have large shares of children in their populations, and these children will age into the prime of their work lives in the future.

The Pew Research survey also finds a wide divergence in people’s confidence that they will have an adequate standard of living in their old age. Confidence in one’s standard of living in old age appears to be related to the rate at which a country is aging and its economic vitality. Confidence is lowest in Japan, Italy and Russia, countries that are aging and where economic growth has been anemic in recent years. In these three countries, less than one-third of people are confident about their old-age standard of living. Meanwhile, there is considerable optimism about the old-age standard of living among the public in countries whose populations are projected to be relatively young in the future or that have done well economically in recent years, such as in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and China.

When asked who should bear the greatest responsibility for the economic well-being of the elderly—their families, the government or the elderly themselves—the government tops the list in 13 of the 21 countries that were surveyed. However, many who name the government are less confident in their own standard of living in old age compared with those who name themselves or their families.

Rarely do people see retirement expenses as mainly a personal obligation. In only four countries—South Korea, the U.S., Germany and Britain—do more than one-third of the public say that the primary responsibility for the economic well-being of people in their old age rests with the elderly themselves.

American public opinion on aging differs dramatically from the views of the nation’s major economic and political partners. Americans are less likely than most of the global public to view the growing number of older people as a major problem. They are more confident than Europeans that they will have an adequate standard of living in their old age. And the U.S. is one of very few countries where a large plurality of the public believes individuals are primarily responsible for their own well-being in old age.

This is not because the U.S. is perennially young. American baby boomers are aging, and one-in-five U.S. residents are expected to be 65 and older by mid-century, greater than the share of seniors in the population of Florida today.1 It is also projected that the share of people 65 and older in the U.S. will eclipse the share of children younger than 15 by 2050.

But the U.S. is aging less rapidly than most of the other countries. In 2010, the global median age (29) was eight years lower than the U.S. median age (37).2 By 2050, the difference in age is projected to narrow to only five years. Also, driven by immigration, the U.S. population is expected to increase by 89 million by mid-century even as the populations of Japan, China, South Korea, Germany, Russia, Italy and Spain are either at a standstill or decreasing. For these reasons, perhaps, the American public is more sanguine than most about aging.

The aging of populations does raise concerns at many levels for governments around the world. There is concern over the possibility that a shrinking proportion of working-age people (ages 15 to 64) in the population may lead to an economic slowdown. The smaller working-age populations must also support growing numbers of older dependents, possibly creating financial stress for social insurance systems and dimming the economic outlook for the elderly.

Graying populations will also fuel demands for changes in public investments, such as the reallocation of resources from the needs of children to the needs of seniors. At the more personal level, longer life spans may strain household finances, cause people to extend their working lives or rearrange family structures.3 Perhaps not surprisingly, an aging China announced a relaxation of its one-child policy in November 2013.

This study reports on the findings from a Pew Research Center survey of publics in 21 countries. The surveys, conducted from March 3 to April 21, 2013, and totaling 22,425 respondents,4 gauged public opinion on the challenges posed by aging for the country and for the respondents personally. The report also examines trends in the aging of the global population, the U.S. population, and the populations in 22 other selected countries.5 The focus is on changes from 2010 to 2050, as projected by the United Nations (UN) in its latest World Population Prospects, the 2012 revision, released in June 2013.

Big study: 69 page PDF






Posted on: February 15, 2014, 6:33 am Category: Uncategorized

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.