How the BRICs Age

It is a well-known fact that the populations of industrialized countries are aging rapidly. There is also talk of China’s population “getting old, before it gets rich.” We wonder: Which of the following emerging market countries is going to age the fastest between now and 2050?

A. China
B. Turkey
C. Brazil
D. Egypt

A. China is correct.

As of 2012, 13% of China’s total population is 60 years old or above, according to United Nations data. By 2050, just over one-third of Chinese (34%) will be that old — an increase by a factor of 2.6.

China’s population at mid-century will have a higher share of elderly persons than any other emerging economy. Its age structure at that time will be very similar to that of Japan today (32%).

Another large Asian country, Indonesia, will experience an even steeper rate of population aging. Its share of people aged 60 and over will increase from 9% to 25% by 2050 — a factor of almost 2.8.

In contrast, India’s elderly population is expected to increase more slowly over the next four decades — from 8% of the population to 19% in 2050. That will give India the youngest age structure among the large emerging economies, positioning it for a so-called “youth dividend.”

B. Turkey is correct.

Only 10% of all people in Turkey are 60 years of age or older today. By 2050, their share will be 26% of the population. Turkey’s aging rate is thus rising as fast as China’s (by a factor of 2.6), although Turkey will still be younger overall than China by mid-century.

Nearby Iran, however, is going to experience a much more rapid aging. From a low share of 8% at present, 33% of Iranians will be 60 or older by 2050. Iran’s elderly population will thus increase by a factor of more than four.

That is a faster increase than in any other major economy and highlights the economic and social challenges faced by the ayatollahs’ regime.

Economic sanctions, declining oil revenues and an aging population would be a toxic combination for any government anywhere. Iran’s window to prepare itself for the effects of its aging population — by finding a path to a much more efficient and productive economy — is closing quickly.

C. Brazil is correct.

Brazil doesn’t just have to battle the scourge of corruption among its politicians and officials. The country also has to contend with a rapidly aging population. While today only 11% of the country’s population is 60 and over, their share will reach 29% by 2050.

This means Brazil’s population is aging as rapidly as China’s and Turkey’s — by a factor of slightly more than 2.6. This fact adds significant pressure on the Brazilian government to confront its domestic economic problems — gross income inequality, reining in corruption and making the economy more productive overall.

D. Egypt is correct.

Today, only 8% of Egyptians are 60 or older. By 2050, their share will rise by a factor of 2.5 to 20%. While this is similar to the increases in China, Turkey and Brazil, Egypt’s overall population is expected to grow much faster by mid-century than those countries’.

Egypt is still a largely agricultural society. The combination of rapid population growth and an extremely limited supply of arable land will pose serious challenges for the country’s policymakers.

In contrast, Europe and Japan have already experienced a dramatic aging of their populations — putting pressure on those countries’ retirement and pension systems. This aging will continue in the coming decades, but at a much slower rate than in the BRICs.

The share of Japan’s 60-and-older population will increase from 32% to 41% by mid-century, a factor of 1.3. Europe’s 60-and-older share is expected to increase from 22% to 34%, a factor of 1.5.

While younger overall than Europe and Japan, the United States will experience a similar shift — with its 60-and-over population increasing from 19% to 27%, a factor of 1.4.

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