by Martin Walker
Barcelona, Spain (UPI) Jun 20, 2011
The threat of "the greatest strike for 100 years" by Britain's main labor union for public employees is a new skirmish in the age wars. Ostensibly about previous government promises to pay early and privileged pensions to its own employees, it is really about ways to share wealth between the generations.
Just like French strikes over raising the retirement age to 62 and the bitter German opposition to bailing out Greeks who were retiring at 60 while Germans worked until the age of 68, the age wars are increasingly becoming the dominant economic and political issue in country after country.
Even in the United States, the battle in Congress over raising the debt ceiling is really about the current and future ability of the taxpayers to finance the steadily rising costs of Medicare and Social Security.
This isn't simply a rich-world phenomenon. By 2030, when today's newborns will be in college or starting careers, some 400 million people, or 30 percent of China's population, will be older than 60. And they seem to have some very unrealistic expectations about pensions.
China Daily last week reported on a survey by the HSBC banks life insurance company, based on polling of 17,800 people in 17 countries and regions. It found that 67 percent of the Chinese respondents associated their retired life with "freedom" and that 62 percent of the Chinese respondents believed they would be better off than their parents after retirement.
But more than 40 percent of the Chinese respondents said they plan, when they retire, to rely on pension funds run by the government.
"Few seem to have considered that the amount of money paid by such funds may not be enough to give them an enjoyable life, especially if the inflation rate remains high," China Daily reported.
In China, the average income paid by government pensions to retirees comes to about $154.35 a month, which is little more than subsistence level. And that is for government employees. So far, they and the military are the only sectors with what most Westerners would consider to be a pension, which means less than one-fifth of the elderly population. China is planning a more broadly based pension system but it will be expensive.
The lack of a nationwide pension system helps explain the dramatically high level of Chinese personal savings, which in turn explains why Chinese consume only around 35 percent of the gross domestic product, half of the amount Americans consume.
These age wars are going to get worse, because of the unprecedented demographic revolution the world is undergoing. Twelve years ago, the number of people over the age of 60 became greater than those under 15 across the Group of Seven countries, the main industrialized nations. By some point around 2047 or 2048, this will be true of the whole world. This has never happened before.
In 1950, there were some 200 million people in the world over the age of 60. Last year, there were close to 800 million and by 2050 there will be more than 2 billion.
Globally the population of older people is growing at a rate of 2.6 percent per year, more than twice as fast as the population as a whole, which is increasing at 1.2 percent annually. Those aged 80 years or over are increasing at 4 percent per year.
There are two main reasons for this unprecedented aging of the human race. The first is falling birthrates and the second is sharply increasing longevity.
Birthrates around the world have been falling for 20 years. The number of babies born alive peaked at 90 million in 1989. In 2010 there were 73 million babies and the trajectory is heading steadily downward, suggesting that the human population will start to stabilize at 9 billion to 10 billion between 2050 and 2100.
Demographic projections are always uncertain, depending as they do upon tens of millions of individual and intimate decisions by men and women. But the broad trend to lower birthrates seems clear, driven by greater availability of birth control and family planning advice, more education of girls and young women, and by urbanization.
Longevity is also increasing worldwide. Once an adult has reached the age of 60, he or she can now expect 13 more years of full health in India, 15 more years in China, 19 more years in the United States and 21 more years in Japan. There are indications that obesity and other ailments could eventually curtail the steady improvement in longevity in the future but for the next 20-30 years the pattern of steadily increasing life expectancy seems clear.
The age wars are upon us, complicated by the fact that while young people today may feel the burden of paying the pensions of the baby-boomers to be unjust, they know that they will be retiring in their turn and depending on their own follow-on generations.
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Family genetic research reveals the speed of human mutation
Montreal, Canada (SPX) Jun 20, 2011
A team of researchers have discovered that, on average, thirty mutations are transmitted from each parent to their child, revising previous estimations and revolutionizing the timescale we use to calculate the number of generations separating us from other species. "Your genome, or genetic code, is made up of six billion pieces of information, called nucleotides," explained co-lead author ... read more
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