“Age 70 is the new 60,” proclaim authors at the United Nations Population Fund. This isn’t a new fashion publication or even specifically a comment on life expectancy. This is the U.N. authors’ reason to not worry about the record-low birth rates in the developed world.
It’s a popular counterargument against those who worry that a lack of young people, and thus an aging population, could sap economic productivity: We can make up for the lack of working-age people by all working a lot harder and a lot longer than we used to.
People who are trained to see things economically sometimes have a hard time understanding why it might be bad if people stop having babies. Sure, GDP will shrink, but would per capita GDP actually go up? And just imagine the effects in 20 years on the unemployment rate and on wages when you no longer have more workers than jobs.
The concept that best gets economists to worry about a birth dearth is the “old-age dependency ratio.” From a fiscal viewpoint, this is the number of people paying into Social Security and Medicare versus the number of people relying on it. If that ratio gets too low, things could get ugly.
But there’s a more fundamental imbalance here: A society needs people to work in order for people to have things. Fewer farmers mean less food. Fewer truck drivers mean you and your local corner store can’t get stuff. Fewer busboys mean shorter hours at the local diner. We all have tasted this during the pandemic.
So, how to get around the old-age dependency problem caused by a shrinking youth population? Extract more work from everyone left.
There’s no need to worry about the economics of an aging population if we can get higher “participation rates among the general population and particularly women” and “those at older ages,” according to the UNFPA report.
“Promote employment among women, older persons, and others,” a separate 2019 United Nations report put it.
But American women already outnumber men in the workforce, and millions of them work more than they want to. On net, if U.S. mothers got what they wanted, they’d shift from full-time to part-time labor. I guess the U.N. will just have to set those women straight.
And old people retiring? That’s going to have to wait.
If 60 is the new 70, surely, we can squeeze another decade of toil out of the baby boomers. After all, it’s not as if they have that many grandchildren to play with, anyway.
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Tags: Family Issues, Demographics, United Nations, Labor, Economy
Original Author: Timothy P. Carney
Original Location: Why have children when you can just work until you die?