The proportion of people who are age 65 and older will double from 7 to 14 percent of the world's total population by 2040, says a new U.S. Census Bureau study.
The over-65 population worldwide will grow from 506 million as of last year to 1.3 billion in 30 years. The unprecedented rate of increase will present challenges and opportunities, according to the report, commissioned by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
And the number of people 100 and older -- centenarians -- has risen dramatically, from an estimated few thousand in 1950 to more than 340,000 worldwide today; the greatest numbers of centenarians are found in the United States and Japan, according to the latest Census Bureau figures.
"Aging is affecting every country in every part of the world," Richard Suzman, director of the behavioral and social research at the institute, said in an agency news release. "While there are important differences between developed and developing countries, global aging is changing the social and economic nature of the planet and presenting difficult challenges. The fact that, within 10 years, for the first time in human history there will be more people aged 65 and older than children under 5 in the world underlines the extent of this change."
The report, "An Aging World: 2008," found that:
* The current growth rate of the older population in developing countries is more than double that in developed countries and double that of the total world population.
* Currently, 313 million (62 percent) of the world's people age 65 and older live in developing countries. By 2040, that will increase to more than 1 billion people, or 76 percent of the projected world population.
* In many countries, people 80 and older are the fastest growing portion of the population. Between 2008 and 2040, that segment of the population is projected to increase 233 percent, compared with 160 percent for those age 65 and older, and 33 percent for the total world population.
* In China and India, there are 166 million people age 65 and older, nearly a third of the world's total. That number will increase to 551 million by 2040 -- 329 million in China and 222 million in India.
* In 2005, childlessness among American and European women age 65 ranged from less than eight percent in the Czech Republic to 15 percent in Austria and Italy. In the United States in 2006, 20 percent of women ages 40 to 44 had no biological children.
The researchers said the data raises questions about who will care for these people when they're elderly.
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