The Coming Shortage of Dead People


Demography is destiny, and the destiny of the developed world is to have more old people. The two charts above (click to enlarge) from the U.S. Census Bureau report 65+ in the United States [PDF] show two snapshots of the U.S. population in 1940 and 2000. On the left, starting at the bottom, most young people live to adulthood and then start dying off evenly at each age until very few people are left alive at the top of the spear, ages 80 and over.

The last half-century’s advances in medicine automation and world peace make the age needle flatten out. As a proportion of the population, twice as many people live past 65 today, and five time as many live past 85. Folks who would have been dead otherwise now live on to spend their children’s inheritance, collect social security and demand free drugs from the government.

Slate’s William Saletan covered the impact of all this destiny in a weekend article "Bygone Era: Old Age is changing. So should Social Security." His opening line: "The bad news is, we’re living longer."  The solution: Work longer (like past 70), curb early retirements, and needs-test Social Security.

(The title of this item comes from last year’s Atlantic Monthly article "The Coming Death Shortage" by Charles C. Mann. [$$])

What Others Are Saying

  1. Nursing Informatics Online Mar 28, 2006 at 11:21 pm

    The Coming Shortage of Dead People

    The baby boomer chunk of the population is hitting “late” middle age where their bodies are starting to break down. Hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and other chronic health conditions…