In the United States, we Boomers have been the largest segment of the population from our birth and we are quickly becoming the majority of the graying population. They built more schools for us when we were younger, and, whether it is good news or not, they are building more rest homes and elder care facilities to accommodate us as we grow older. European and other developed countries are experiencing a similar phenomenon.
This has not been in the poor, developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In the nineteen seventies, eighties, and even the nineties in many countries, birth rates were on the rise. When I went to Kenya in 1972 the population was 12 million. Forty years later, according the to World Bank Development Indicators, Kenya’s population will top 40 million this year.
Graying Around the World
Despite such growth, the 21st century may see an end to younger people outnumbered their elders on the planet. Two factors are producing this change.
- People are living longer: We who live in the developed countries of the world are privileged to be the recipients of new medical breakthroughs in heart care, cancer treatment, and vaccines to treat infections and diseases. We are also more health conscious than ever before. While many of these breakthroughs are far to expense for citizens of the poorer countries to take advantage of, they have more hospitals and clinics, doctors and educators, medicines and better nutrition than every before and they too are living longer.
- Birth rates are declining: Birth rates have declined in the developed countries with 22 countries having less than 10 birth per 1000 population. The United States ranks 55th with just under 15 births per 1000 population. Developing countries have also witnessed birth rate declines due to increase in the use of birth control and education that has persuaded a growing number that they cannot afford to give their children a better life if they continue to bear so many children. China’s one child birth policy has drastically reduced its birth rate.
This is not uniformly the case around the world. According to a recent book, Growing and Graying by population scientist Joel E. Cohen, “by 2050 nearly one person in three will be 60 years or older in more developed regions and one person in five in the less developed zones.” Yet, in Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Chad, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, and Uganda half the population will still be under twenty-three years of age.
The world is graying. What impact will that have on life on the planet? This is a question we must face now.