In the year 2040 - 1.3 billion senior citizens

Mon Jul 20, 2009 2:01am EDT
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The world's population of older people is growing at the fastest rate ever seen and the old will soon outnumber the young for the first time, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

An aging population will push up pension and healthcare costs, forcing major increases in public spending that could slow economic growth in rich and poor countries.

The number of people 65 and older hit about 506 million as of midyear 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This will double to 1.3 billion by 2040, accounting for 14 percent of the total global population.

"People aged 65 and over will soon outnumber children under age 5 for the first time in history," said the report put together by Kevin Kinsella and Wan He of the U.S. Census Bureau.

"Aging is affecting every country in every part of the world," said Richard Suzman of the National Institute of Aging, which commissioned the report. "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 report found that people aged 80 and older are the fastest growing portion of the total population in many countries. Globally, this "oldest old" population is projected to increase by 233 percent between 2008 and 2040.

This could strain their children and grandchildren.

"Shrinking ratios of workers to pensioners and people spending a larger portion of their lives in retirement increasingly tax existing health and pension systems," the report said.   Continued...

<p>Women stand inside a beadhouse, a home for the elderly, in Xining, capital of northwestern China's Qinghai province October 26, 2006. REUTERS/Stringer</p>