Young and In Trouble

 

This map, from Pew researcher Conrad Hackett, tells an interesting story:

BzHX8T7CMAA04jt

 

The median age in the U.S., he points out, is 37. The vast swath of green in central Africa — ground zero of the Ebola epidemic — is the youngest.

Meanwhile, the next youngest place on earth is Afghanistan, where the median age is 18.1.

The rest of the world is conveniently mapped here — but, SPOILER ALERT! — you’re in the old part. Not the oldest — that’s Canada and Europe. But old.

Two interesting data points, one worrying, one simply baffling:

Worrying: Places in trouble — where disease and civil war and extreme politics are the order of the day — are the youngest.

Baffling: China and the U.S. are about even in the median age department. But, of course, China has almost quadruple the population of the United States. Which suggests that the widely quoted insight, “China will get old before it gets rich,” may be correct. But we’ll be getting old along with them. Looking at the map, though, it’s hard to spot another country — maybe Brazil (median age: 30.7) or India (median age: 27) — that’s showing economic growth and has a young population to fuel its continued expansion. So here’s what’s baffling: where, in the future, will the growth come from?

There are 36 comments.

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  1. Done Contributor

    Rob Long: So here’s what’s baffling: where, in the future, will the growth come from?

    Machine labor. Fewer humans will be necessary to do the same amount of work. Problem solved.

    • #1
    • October 7, 2014, at 2:26 PM PDT
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  2. Rob Long Founder
    Rob Long Post author

    Frank Soto:

    Rob Long: So here’s what’s baffling: where, in the future, will the growth come from?

    Machine labor. Fewer humans will be necessary to do the same amount of work. Problem solved.

    Lots of machines in Japan. That isn’t working for them.

    • #2
    • October 7, 2014, at 2:30 PM PDT
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  3. Rachel Lu Contributor

    Good reasons to 1) have babies and 2) think about immigration policy. The problem, obviously, is that our country isn’t really set up to absorb immigrants productively. Too much welfare, too much regulation. We turn the young and hungry into the dysfunctional and unemployed. Could we find ways to turn that around?

    • #3
    • October 7, 2014, at 2:47 PM PDT
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  4. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    I’m not sure what this has to do with economic growth. I.e., economic growth is affected much more by people in a relatively “older”, i.e. 30s-40s age range, than teenagers or people in their 20s.

    • #4
    • October 7, 2014, at 2:54 PM PDT
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  5. Merina Smith Inactive

    How to turn around dying cultures? I see this as a growing topic of research and discussion in the next 50 years. It’s the fire that no one has noticed while fretting about “global warming” and “over”population and making marriage genderless. We’re fiddling while Rome burns, but eventually perhaps we’ll notice that the heat isn’t where we thought it was.

    • #5
    • October 7, 2014, at 2:59 PM PDT
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  6. Done Contributor

    To lay this out clearer, one of the reasons people have so many children when they live in destitute poverty and so few when they are prosperous, likely has to do with the fact that a hundred and fifty years or so ago, it took 19 people working on a farm to feed 20 people.

    So 1 person working on a farm could feed 1.05 people

    Today, that ratio is something like 1 person working on a farm can feed 300 people in the US.

    I can’t imagine a reason that the ratio can’t become 1 to 1000, or 1 to 10,000

    There is surely some evolutionary impulse in humans that causes us to have more children in tough times to try to benefit from the synergy of more workers, and fewer children when living in surplus in order to prevent the surplus from being consumed.

    • #6
    • October 7, 2014, at 2:59 PM PDT
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  7. Done Contributor

    Rob Long:

    Frank Soto:

    Rob Long: So here’s what’s baffling: where, in the future, will the growth come from?

    Machine labor. Fewer humans will be necessary to do the same amount of work. Problem solved.

    Lots of machines in Japan. That isn’t working for them.

    Japan’s obstacle to growth is their government. But addressing the concept of your critique, machines are only good at really specific tasks for the moment. That will inevitably change.

    • #7
    • October 7, 2014, at 3:01 PM PDT
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  8. Done Contributor

    AIG:I’m not sure what this has to do with economic growth. I.e., economic growth is affected much more by people in a relatively “older”, i.e. 30s-40s age range, than teenagers or people in their 20s.

    That is his point. When our relatively few 20 year olds become our 30-40 year olds, where will the growth come from?

    • #8
    • October 7, 2014, at 3:04 PM PDT
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  9. Chris Campion Coolidge

    When I see the words “young and in trouble”, I don’t anticipate seeing a map of Africa with percentages on it.

    Disappointed.

    But it’s not just the median age, it’s the mix of the ages of the population. The US and China might have the same relative age, but that doesn’t mean our mix is the same as theirs. They mostly have 1 child. That demographic is going to implode in the future. The US still maintains a birth rate that is over the re-population minimum (something like 2.1 children per couple), which is significantly higher than Europe. Japan has had a declining birth rate as well, if I remember this right, coupled with an abysmal monetary policy that stomps on the disaster accelerator faster than an upset Godzilla.

    More people does not equal more growth. I guess the question is more what kind of growth will we see, in terms of GDP and the categories beneath it (excepting gov’t), and what populations will be participating in the growing industries? There’s a lot to this that I don’t think hinges on one factor – age.

    • #9
    • October 7, 2014, at 3:11 PM PDT
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  10. Ion Inactive
    Ion

    It would be instructive to see a map of the ratio of median age to the expected lifespan. And, perhaps, this ratio weighed to reflect worker productivity.

    • #10
    • October 7, 2014, at 3:19 PM PDT
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  11. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Frank Soto: That is his point. When our relatively few 20 year olds become our 30-40 year olds, where will the growth come from?

    Which is answered in the post below yours:

    Chris Campion: But it’s not just the median age, it’s the mix of the ages of the population. The US and China might have the same relative age, but that doesn’t mean our mix is the same as theirs. They mostly have 1 child. That demographic is going to implode in the future. The US still maintains a birth rate that is over the re-population minimum

    Rachel Lu: The problem, obviously, is that our country isn’t really set up to absorb immigrants productively

    Our country is uniquely positioned to absorb immigrants productively, since if given a chance, most of the productive people in the world would chose to come work in the US instead of wherever they are.

    We just chose not to. We turn away productive immigrants, kicking them out after they finish college in the US…

    Rachel Lu: Good reasons to 1) have babies

    Good reason to pay attention to WHO is having babies. Having babies if you’re unemployable and non-productive isn’t going to contribute much to anything, other than future welfare and dependency rolls.

    Which is why the “reformcon” and “virtucon” and “policy wonk” prescriptions of “lets subsidize having babies” do precisely the opposite thing: they subsidize people who are already poor and of low-productivity to have more babies, since they’re the only ones who are going to be responsive to financial incentives to procreate. Richer and more productive people aren’t going to respond to such incentives.

    A couple of two doctors isn’t going to start having babies because they get a extra $1,000 tax incentive to do so, because the limiting factor in them having more babies isn’t the marginal tax rate.

    In fact, you’d want precisely the opposite to happen. Make it as expensive as possible for low-productivity people to have more babies than they can afford.

    • #11
    • October 7, 2014, at 3:27 PM PDT
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  12. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    The figures that are of impotence here are these: projected population distributions in 2030:

    retirement_demo_2030_usa

    compared to China

    retirement_demo_2030_china

    Compared to Germany

    retirement_demo_2030_germany

    The US is probably the only developed country that isn’t experiencing, or going to experience, any demographic “problems” in the foreseeable future.

    A real problem however, is that the…majority…of these kids to be born, are likely to be born to low-income, low-productivity and low-education families, and hence aren’t likely to contribute very much to economic activity anyway.

    I guess subsidizing poor people to have babies, does just that ;)

    • #12
    • October 7, 2014, at 3:45 PM PDT
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  13. Seawriter Member

    Rob Long: Worrying: Places in trouble — where disease and civil war and extreme politics are the order of the day are the youngest.

    And that is surprising, why?

    Old age is a function of civilization. Before civilization 99-44/100th of everyone born died before their 30th birthday. You only needed one run of bad luck to die. Without shelter, stored food, and basic sanitation, bad luck was easy to come by.

    Same is true today — all you need is one run of bad luck to die. You are much more likely to experience bad luck in societies where disease and civil war and extreme politics are the order of the day. People have less chance to grow old.

    My father-in-law is 92. He has never had a serious health problem. (One reason he is 92.) But in the United States he has always had access to adequate food, clean water, good shelter, and a society where violence is relatively rare. Had he lived in Afghanistan, the odds are he would have encountered some combination of disease, famine, or warfare over the last 92 years that would have killed him. Even though he was capable of reaching 92 he would have been unlikely to have had the opportunity.

    Seawriter

    • #13
    • October 7, 2014, at 3:52 PM PDT
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  14. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but eyeballing the map also seems to show that median age correlates pretty strongly with GDP per capita.

    Not surprising, just interesting.

    • #14
    • October 7, 2014, at 4:49 PM PDT
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  15. Palaeologus Inactive

    Frank Soto: There is surely some evolutionary impulse in humans that causes us to have more children in tough times to try to benefit from the synergy of more workers, and fewer children when living in surplus in order to prevent the surplus from being consumed.

    Yep.

    It is more commonly described as “laziness.”

    • #15
    • October 7, 2014, at 4:49 PM PDT
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  16. Frozen Chosen Inactive

    Those who still have babies will determine the shape of our society – welcome to your Hispanic Mormon future!

    • #16
    • October 7, 2014, at 4:51 PM PDT
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  17. Rachel Lu Contributor

    Frozen, I look forward to the future that our Mormon and conservative Catholic descendants will build together.

    • #17
    • October 7, 2014, at 4:55 PM PDT
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  18. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Rachel Lu: Frozen, I look forward to the future that our Mormon and conservative Catholic descendants will build together.

    Yeah, all those Hispanic “conservative” Catholics who are left of Karl Marx, and are subsidized by “child tax credits” ;)

    I don’t look forward to that future.

    • #18
    • October 7, 2014, at 5:01 PM PDT
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  19. Rocket City Dave Inactive

    Rob Long:”

    So here’s what’s baffling: where, in the future, will the growth come from?”

    It won’t. At least I expect growth to slow down globally and across most nations. As populations shrink obligations to the elderly become more burdensome on workers who forgo the expense of children, causing populations to shrink further.

    I do think East Africa will grow more rapidly. As the regimes there continue to become more stable and infrastructure continues to improve, it opens the opportunity for factories to take advantage of the cheapest low skilled labor. However East Africa is just not an adequate replacement for the slowdown in the rest of the world.

    • #19
    • October 7, 2014, at 5:04 PM PDT
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  20. Merina Smith Inactive

    AIG:

    Rachel Lu: Frozen, I look forward to the future that our Mormon and conservative Catholic descendants will build together.

    Yeah, all those Hispanic “conservative” Catholics who are left of Karl Marx, and are subsidized by “child tax credits” ;)

    I don’t look forward to that future.

    The Mormon side can even that out. We have the most wonderful conservative Hispanic people in our congregation. They are marvelous.

    • #20
    • October 7, 2014, at 5:18 PM PDT
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  21. Casey Inactive

    You know, I never noticed this before but if you rotate Africa counterclockwise a bit, it looks like a horse head.

    • #21
    • October 7, 2014, at 5:56 PM PDT
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  22. Underground Conservative Coolidge

    Merina Smith:

    AIG:

    Rachel Lu: Frozen, I look forward to the future that our Mormon and conservative Catholic descendants will build together.

    Yeah, all those Hispanic “conservative” Catholics who are left of Karl Marx, and are subsidized by “child tax credits” ;)

    I don’t look forward to that future.

    The Mormon side can even that out. We have the most wonderful conservative Hispanic people in our congregation. They are marvelous.

    Not to judge them entirely by this question, but do they vote Republican?

    • #22
    • October 7, 2014, at 6:06 PM PDT
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  23. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    Rob, if I read the map of Africa correctly, the only place on the continent with an older population, averaging about 30 on average, is Tunisia. As it happens, I once spent a bit of time there. It is like a lower-middle-class Italy. Everyone drives a crummy Fiat, but everyone has a car. The agriculture is wonderful; there is no oil. Most Tunisians are secularist. It is a nice place in a part of the world that is not so nice.

    • #23
    • October 7, 2014, at 6:50 PM PDT
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  24. Jimmy Carter Member

    Frank Soto: There is surely some evolutionary impulse in humans that causes us to have more children in tough times to try to benefit from the synergy of more workers, and fewer children when living in surplus in order to prevent the surplus from being consumed.

    It’s simpler than that. In “tough times” there ain’t nothing else to do, but boink one another.

    “Living in surplus” there’s work to be done, bills to pay, keeping up with the Jone’s, etc., giving Ladies headaches.

    • #24
    • October 7, 2014, at 7:10 PM PDT
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  25. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    The problem with Japan is their culture. They heavily protect their old-style economy which relies on small farms and Mom-and-Pop businesses. They are also actively hostile to immigration of any sort, and their young people are so bummed out many never get married or have kids at all. The government is still made up of Japanese, and unless you change the thousand-year-old culture, it can’t do much. They have to have the oldest average age of any country.

    • #25
    • October 7, 2014, at 7:46 PM PDT
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  26. Foxfier Inactive

    Merina Smith:How to turn around dying cultures? I see this as a growing topic of research and discussion in the next 50 years. It’s the fire that no one has noticed while fretting about “global warming” and “over”population and making marriage genderless. We’re fiddling while Rome burns, but eventually perhaps we’ll notice that the heat isn’t where we thought it was.

    There’s got to be a poetic way to say this… but you know how mint and pansies seem horrible for about five months and then come back OK?

    I don’t think we’re dying, I think we’re doing like annual plants. Really sucks if you want a violet or a bit of mint tea, but the plant just won’t die.

    • #26
    • October 7, 2014, at 7:51 PM PDT
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  27. Jimmy Carter Member

    Foxfier: I think we’re doing like annual plants.

    Getting laid once a year? Just great….

    • #27
    • October 7, 2014, at 8:00 PM PDT
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  28. James Of England Moderator

    Chris Campion: But it’s not just the median age, it’s the mix of the ages of the population. The US and China might have the same relative age, but that doesn’t mean our mix is the same as theirs. They mostly have 1 child. That demographic is going to implode in the future. The US still maintains a birth rate that is over the re-population minimum (something like 2.1 children per couple), which is significantly higher than Europe. Japan has had a declining birth rate as well, if I remember this right, coupled with an abysmal monetary policy that stomps on the disaster accelerator faster than an upset Godzilla.

    Indeed, furthermore, when people say that China will get old before it gets rich, they’re also looking at the reasons for China’s growth. An exploding working age population is handy for GDP growth, and getting rid of children, an invisible form of investment, increases resource allocation to visible forms of investment. For the last few decades, China has had a massive demographic advantage over the US. It’s now drawing equal, and it’s going to be suffering into the future.

    One of the positive aspects of this is that China’s less testosterone fuelled than it would be if it had more kids and young men. If you believe, as I do, that China’s ability to put off recessions by bailing out companies just makes the eventual crash worse, and that China’s practice of papering over social tensions by throwing money at them depends on not having recessions, then it’s quite helpful that China’s mostly dominated by more mature citizens with bad memories of the horrors of the cultural revolution. What would be really ideal is if China ended the one child policy, and the potential rioters included very large numbers of parents of young children. Those parents, when suddenly cast into poverty, will be even more unhappy, but less likely to burn stuff.

    • #28
    • October 7, 2014, at 8:07 PM PDT
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  29. Zafar Member

    There’s a negative correlation between the education and social equality of women and the number of children they have, which in turn impacts on the long term age ratio. There’s a positive correlation, however, with wealth and longevity.

    • #29
    • October 7, 2014, at 8:37 PM PDT
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  30. James Of England Moderator

    Zafar:There’s a negative correlation between the education and social equality of women and the number of children they have, which in turn impacts on the long term age ratio. There’s a positive correlation, however, with wealth and longevity.

    That seems hard to believe in a world where such a large chunk of the patriarchal world is China, with so very few children. It sounds like the kind of statistic that would make sense if you count the world by countries rather than individuals, which means that instead of being much smaller than China, Africa causes China to disappear.

    • #30
    • October 7, 2014, at 8:49 PM PDT
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