…some economists are sanguine about the country’s ability to support
the elderly and at the same time provide for the young. Gary Burtless,
a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted that the decline in
fertility rates since the 1960’s means that the burden of caring for
the young has decreased dramatically – freeing resources to channel to
The overall burden on the employed will grow, but not
to unprecedented levels. The ratio of people of working age to those
either under 20 or over 65 will decrease to 1.2 in 2050 from about 1.5
today. But this is still an easier load than in 1965, when the country
was awash with children, and the ratio of the working-age population to
each dependent was only 1.1.
True, the young are cheaper to
maintain than the old. In 1990, economists at Harvard and M.I.T.,
including David M. Cutler and Lawrence H. Summers of Harvard, estimated
that people over 64 consume 76 percent more than children.
Mr. Burtless estimated that in 2050 a worker will have to sacrifice
49.6 percent of his or her wages – through taxes or other means – to
maintain society’s dependents. That is nearly 6 percentage points more
than in 2000, but it is merely 0.8 percentage points more than 1965.
And the percentage could well be smaller if people work later in life
to pay for more of their keep.
The notion of incredible
competition between what the public spends on the aged and what it
spends on the young is driven by fear, Mr. Burtless said. "But so far
the fears have not been grounded," he said. "In fact, we seem to be
able to do both kinds of things. Increase spending on aged and protect
spending on the young."
Let us not forget about the utility dimension in addition to the fiscal. Is it more fun to care for the very young or the very old? The evidence is not so clear cut. Many people do not enjoy their children as much as they claim; read more here.