As global meetings go, this one got lost in the shuffle. The Second World Assembly on Ageing, held last spring in Madrid, received remarkably little press. That's a shame because most of us need a major reset for our assumptions about the future.

By the year 2050, U.N. demographers estimate, old people will outnumber children for the first time in human history. Yes, you read that right: the first time in human history.

Cherubic and pink will be out. Grey and wrinkled will be in. The change also means that overpopulation is, well, over.  Declining population is beginning.  The transition may seem long to you and me but in demographic terms it will be short and steep.

Such changes seldom make it to newsprint, let alone TV. But these fundamental changes are more likely to shape our experience--- and our investments--- than conventional crystal ball gazing. Skeptics should consider a few items.

  • Europe won't become a historical theme park. It will turn into a nursing home. United Nations projections show the population declining from 727 million in 2000 to 603 million in 2050. That's not much higher than the 548 million who lived there in 1950, only a few years after the devastation of World War II. By 2025 Europe will have twice as many people who are at least 60 years old as children 14 and younger. Thinking about buying a villa in Italy, a chateau in France, or a castle in Spain? Don't hurry. Consider leasing. Without population growth the market is likely to be soft. The ski lift lines at Gstaad and St. Moritz will be short, too.
  • If your broker is touting a resurgent Japan, don't listen. Median age there will be 50 by 2025. Oldsters will outnumber kids three to one. Since the Japanese have also dominated the global longevity sweepstakes for 20 years, they'll have an estimated 218,000 citizens at least 100 years old, rising to 959,000 by 2050. To put those figures in perspective, the current population of Anaheim California, the home of Disneyland, is 165, 000 and the current population of Washington, D.C. is only 567,000.
  • China, the most populous nation in the world, will also be its testosterone capital. Their current excess of young males, numbering 25 million in 2,000, will continue to grow for the next 50 years. Second sons who had no inheritances fueled the growth of the British Empire in nineteenth century. We can only wonder what 25 million Chinese men without any hope of marriage will do in the twenty-first century.


In comparison, the United States will be the bowl and chair Goldilocks preferred.  We won't be overrun with the young and uneducated like the less developed world. And we won't be aging faster than Dorian Grey, like most of the developed world. 

We'll be getting older, to be sure, but kids will still be a visible part of our society. Our population will still be growing, albeit slowly, in 2050. With a median population age of 40.7 years in 2050, we'll be much younger than Europe (49.5 years) or Japan (53.1). We'll be a bit younger than China (43.8), too.

That makes us a favored runner for the marathon that's coming.