The issue: The world is experiencing human population growth that adds between 80 and 90 million additional humans to the planet each year. More than one-third of the world’s population is under age 15, which means that billions more children will be born before the world achieves population stabilization. Ironically, at the same time that more children are being born, there are more elderly humans that must have their needs met. Worldwide, the average life expectancy is 63 years, up from 50 years in 1972. Even in third world countries, there are more elderly people than ever before. Caring for the elderly brings unique problems that have the potential to place enormous strains on the world’s economy and social safety nets. Thus, the problem facing many developing countries is twofold: how to care for millions of babies, while at the same time providing needed services for a growing elderly population
What does this mean to you? As the demographics of the United States change, problems unique to various age groups will arise. If fewer children are born, there will be less need to pay taxes for education and health care, especially if the children are provided with early nutrition and health services. As the population ages, there is the potential for economic strain on social services for the elderly, and pensions may no longer be enough to support ex-workers. Any way the population resolves itself, there will be economic and environmental burdens that taxpayers will have to pay; there is no “easy answer” to the population dilemma.
Achieving sustainability: Given the potential economic problems associated with an aging population, some people may believe that the world needs an increased, rather than decreased, human population. The environmental problems associated with additional billions of people, however, are sure to outweigh the optimistic estimates of the “pro growth” people. Some answers to changing demographics include: allowing people to invest more of their money in retirement funds, increasing the age of retirement, using the elderly to educate and care for the young, stabilizing governments, decreasing governmental corruption, and spending more tax money on caring for the increasing numbers of elderly citizens.
Activity: Students will take a field trip to a local cemetery and examine the headstones for information on the age and sex of the deceased. By cataloguing deaths by decade, the students will be able to construct information about the number of deaths, age of the deceased, and gender for every 10 years to determine if the population has changed over time. Construct a table such as the one below, and fill in the required information.
Age at death 1850-59 males 1850-59 females 1860-69 males 1860-69 females go through 1990-99 males go through 1990-99 females
< 1 year
continue rows until 95-105 years
(1) Are people of different sexes living longer lives compared to the past? What may account for different death rates between the sexes?
(2) Are there fewer childhood deaths now, compared to the past? Why might this be so?
(3) Did you notice any trends in age of death through time?
(4) Where you found families buried together, did you notice an increased or decreased number of offspring buried in family plots?
(5) Given any trends you noticed, will your area be affected by a loss of working young? Will there be more elderly that will need social services?
(6) What solutions can you suggest to ensure that all people will receive adequate care, without requiring that the population constantly increases?