Monday, March 31, 2014

We get old and gray and doubled up, and troubled up

Pew recently released a report entitled "Attitudes about aging: A global perspective". The following table shows the percentage of survey respondents in each country who identified the graying of their countries as a "major problem":

East Asia is concerned because it needs to be--especially Japan--and also because it's East Asia.

Americans, in contrast, are blithely unconcerned because despite a CVS or Walgreen's going up on every street corner in anticipation of a senescent future, the mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce is still in its seminal stages and has been retarded by the economic turbulence of the last several years. Additionally, economists assure us that there is little reason to be worried so long as we throw open the borders since immigration will fix everything. Despite the fact that the average age of network television viewers continues to rise, popular entertainment is mostly devoid of programs focusing on elderly. Is there anything comparable to Golden Girls on TV today?

Curiously, the 65+ segments of the US and Russian populations constitute identical percentages of their respective total populations. Although there is more immigration into the US than into Russia (immigrants tending to be younger than the natives of the countries they're settling are) and that the US enjoys a higher birth rate than Russia, over the next four decades the US' share of the 65+ population is actually expected to grow slightly faster than Russia's is. Contra Billy Joel, it is the evil Russians who tend to die (relatively) young(ish). Problem averted?

How expressed worry translates into effective solutions to the putative problems caused by an inverting age pyramid remains murky. Immigration, unless it comes from other developed countries facing a similar predicament, is about as effective as the triumph mayor Quimby holds for Bart after his pet bird-eating lizards escaped:
Quimby: For decimating our pigeon population... I present you with this scented candle.

Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.

Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?

Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle-snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.

Lisa: But aren't the snakes even worse?

Skinner: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.

Lisa: But then we're stuck with gorillas!

Skinner: No, that's the beautiful part. With proper education, the gorillas do as well as wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.
Will clinically-minded, collectivist East Asian nations begin encouraging euthanasia? The WVS asks a question about the justifiability of euthanasia. It's phrased around the issue of an incurable illness rather than merely old age, so it's not optimal. Still, it seems like a reasonable proxy. The question is on a 10-point scale. The higher the mean value, the more amenable the country's population is to the idea of elective euthanasia:

Great Britain6.1
United States4.9
South Korea4.7
South Africa3.2

Little evidence that East Asians are more comfortable with suicide than Westerners are. There is, however, a strong relationship (r = .77, p = .0003) between how gray a nation's population is and how supportive it is of euthanasia. As arthritis and senility set in, the march of progress continues on unabated.

With all due irreverence, it's notable that the religion that produces suicide bombers has little tolerance for self-inflicted deaths in the name of convenience. Or, to put it in another way, they'll die for things like God and country, but not because of the discomfort a bad back brings. We, on the other hand, will take a stand for little more than our own creature comforts. Who would you rather have fighting on your side? Yikes. At least we still have the gatling gun, I suppose.

WVS variable used: V206


Jokah Macpherson said...

I'm not buying any chance of euthanasia ever gaining acceptance in the West other than as an unserious fringe movement. Old people have way too much power, wealth, and time on their hands (and a lack of diversity that enhances their cohesiveness) so they will push around the young and continue to extract resources from them for the foreseeable future.

Exhibit A - The special section in the Wall Street Journal today is on how old people have it so bad because they aren't receiving grandkids quickly enough. Talk about first world problems (in more ways than one).

Anonymous said...

I'd still rather have an older population than a young one. I get the impression that advancements in medicine and technology are pushing our healthy lifespan longer. So I'm not convinced that aging is problem. Among the upper middle class, I more often see healthy, youthful looking middle age folks today than 20 years ago.

JayMan said...

Great post!

I can't wait until this year's World Values Survey data come out.

About the variation in longevity across the world, see also here:

HBD is Life and Death | JayMan's Blog

And of course, about the folly of importing immigrants to offset an aging population, Greg Cochran had a few words on that:

They’ll never get old and gray | West Hunter

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure that the growth of chains like CVS and Walgreen's is primarily a result of the aging population. They've slotted themselves very nicely into a market niche between convenience stores and larger stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, and supermarkets. Health-related items only account for a fairly small percentage of the floor space in a typical CVS or Walgreen's.


CJ said...

South Korea now has the highest suicide rate in the world, and inside the country it' the elderly who have the highest rate.

South Korea’s Struggle With Suicide