The developed nations set records for high levels of societal aging, but what about developing countries? Given the higher levels of fertility at present, it is obvious that aging is less of a factor in poorer countries compared to wealthier ones. But aging takes place, and in some cases, rival levels seen in the developed world.
By 2050, the developing regions of Asia and Latin America will find that their populations age 65 and above, as a percentage of the working age population (ages 15-64), will be roughly equivalent to what is found in developed countries today. This certainly is a new challenge but also one for which there is time to prepare.
One significant difference in the projected age structures between developed and developing countries is that fertility in developing countries is not projected to fall to some of the very low levels observed in Europe—or at least today’s projections do not make that assumption. It should be kept in mind, however, that several developing countries often referred to as “newly industrialized countries” (NICs), such as South Korea and Taiwan, saw such a decline in their TFRs that they now have the lowest fertility rates in the world.
In Africa, fertility today remains at quite a high level and, as mentioned earlier, does not appear to be declining rapidly. Further, life expectancy remains low-barely 50 years in sub-Saharan Africa. For these reasons, Africa’s population remains relatively young for the first half of this century and has yet to show the effects of rising life expectancy. In Asia, the outlook is much more diverse. China, which accounts for one-third of Asia’s population, today has a TFR of only 1.5. In India, fertility decline has been much more gradual and remains modestly high at about 4 children per woman in some of its most populous states. Finally, Latin America’s demographics have come to resemble that of its northern neighbors, and that region can expect a somewhat similar aging pattern.
In summary, for the foreseeable next few decades at least, extreme societal aging is likely to be found only in Europe and a few Asian countries. At the same time, the developing world remains comparatively young, deepening the demographic divide. Developed countries with low fertility face important choices if they are to avoid a collapse of pension systems and a burden of caring for never-before-seen proportions of elderly citizens.
For many countries, increases in birth rates are not sufficient because they happen too late, and few expect such increases to be significant. This clearly implies that the acceptability of immigration as a solution have to increase in order to solve labor force problems and increase the number of workers paying social taxes. Yet, out of all possible solutions, immigration has the least appeal. In the 2006 Eurobarometer survey, the three most commonly cited solutions to labor shortages were, in order: encouraging non-working women to participate in the labor market, encouraging part-time workers to become full time, and raising the birth rate. Similarly, the three least popular solutions were the following: encouraging immigration from outside the European Union, raising the retirement age, and increasing weekly working hours.