Americans Less Likely to Label Aging as Problem

January 31, 2014 ( – Americans are not as likely to label aging as a major national problem compared with the citizens of other countries, a study finds.

“Attitudes About Aging: A Global Perspective,” from the Pew Research Center, finds only one in four Americans believe the aging of the population is a serious issue for the country. The study finds those who think of aging as a major problem are likely to be older themselves. In the United States, older adults are twice as likely as young adults (34% vs. 18%) to say aging is a major problem.

Nearly one-quarter (24%) of U.S. respondents surveyed for the study are very confident they will have an adequate standard of living in their old age, while over one-third (39%) are somewhat confident. Related surveys conducted by Pew in 2009 and 2012 found an 11 percentage point drop in the number of Americans that they were very or somewhat confident of having enough income and assets to last throughout their entire retirement.

Observing that overall economic growth, or lack thereof, can affect people’s confidence about their standard of living in old age, the study authors say, “If past is prelude, Americans are likely to become more confident of their future in retirement as the economy rebounds.” Study findings show 75% of Americans who see the national economy as good are confident about their own economic future, while only 58% of those who see the economy as bad are as confident about their personal economic future.

In addition, 77% of Americans who say their personal economic situation is good also are confident in their economic future. On the other hand, only 36% of Americans whose personal economic situation is bad are confident in their future standard of living.

The United States is one of a handful of countries whose respondents believe that responsibility for a secure retirement is up to an individual. When queried, 46% of Americans say it is up to the individual to provide for themselves during retirement, while 20% say it is the responsibility of their families and 24% say it is the responsibility of the government. The study also finds among those Americans who say retirement is either the responsibility of the family or the individual, 72% expressed confidence in a good standard of living during retirement. However, those who say retirement is the government’s responsibility expressed only a 44% confidence level about having a good standard of living during retirement.

According to the study, pension expenditures are not expected to rise as much in developed economies because these populations are currently aging at a less rapid pace and because many have implemented reforms that are expected to limit the growth of pension expenditures. The study notes that in the United States, the full retirement age of 65 has gradually been on the rise since 1983 and is scheduled to level off at age 67 for those born after 1959.

The study authors say countries with an older population but in which the aging has slowed, such as the United States, should experience relatively smaller increases in public pension expenditures. In the United States, public pension expenditures are expected to go from 6.8% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010 to only 8.5% in 2050.

In terms of public health expenditures, the United States spent 6% to 7% of its national income on public health care in 2010. The United States is projected to go from spending 6.7% of its GDP in 2010 to 14.9% in 2050.

The study authors cite data from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO): “The CBO has estimated that aging is of concern in the mid-term but that health-cost inflation is the principal cause of long-term growth in health expenditures. More specifically, the CBO estimates that aging is responsible for 60% of the projected increase in health care spending between 2012 and 2037 and higher costs are responsible for 40%. However, beyond 2037, rising costs are expected to be the dominant factor.”

The authors point out that an increase in public expenditures on pensions and health care as a share of national income is not inevitable though, explaining, “Future improvements in technology and gains in productivity, containment of health-cost inflation and delayed retirements may generate sufficiently large countervailing forces to slow this growth in spending.”

More information about the study, including how to download the findings, can be found here.