Ursula M. Staudinger, Vegard F. Skirbekk, Joel E. Cohen

Gerontology, December 13, 2018


Usually, population aging is measured to inform fiscal and social planning because it is considered to indicate the burden that an elderly population presents to the economic, social security, and health systems of a society. Measures of population aging are expected to indicate shifts in the distribution of individuals’ attributes (e.g., chronological age, health) within a population that are relevant to assessing the burden. We claim that chronological age – even though it is the attribute most broadly used – may frequently not be the best measure to satisfy this purpose. A distribution of chronological age per se does not present a burden. Rather, burdens arise from the characteristics that supposedly or actually accompany chronological ages. We posit that in addition to chronological age, meaningful measures of population aging should reflect, for instance, the distribution of economic productivity, health, functional capacities, or biological age, as these attributes may more directly assess the burden on the socioeconomic and health systems. Here, we illustrate some limitations of measures of population aging based on each kind of measure, including chronological age, and review alternative measures that may better inform fiscal, social, and health planning.

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