National governments are now faced with an ever-growing elderly population supported by fewer and fewer younger workers. What is the solution?
LIFE expectancy in 1900 was 47; today, 74. Everywhere within the Western industrialized nations life expectancy has increased. But with the ever-increasing life span, a major problem is developing. People hear about the population explosion. The teeming masses of Calcutta and Cairo. China, India and black African nations grapple with swelling populations. But from the Ural Mountains to the British Isles, the United States, Canada and Japan, the birthrate is well below the 2.1 needed to maintain the national population. West Germany, for example, has a birthrate of only 1.4. The U.S., 1.8; Britain, 1.9; Canada, 1.8; and Japan, 1.8. These figures depict a very serious unforeseen trend.
The "Other" Population Explosion
As low birthrates continue to deplete the ranks of the young, and life expectancies continue to rise, industrial nations face a serious population expansion within the ranks of the elderly. Within Austria, Sweden and West Germany senior citizens already constitute at least 15 percent of the population. The developed nations worldwide face a senior citizen population explosion. Longer life expectancies push up the costs of health care and old-age pensions, while a declining birthrate puts a greater tax burden upon workers who must support the system. It's a major new dilemma for governments. An ever-growing elderly population supported by fewer and fewer workers creates an inverted pyramid, expanding at the top while shrinking at the bottom. If trends continue there will not be enough workers to contribute to the welfare systems that support senior citizens. President Ronald Reagan has warned of this problem. "There is a possibility — well, probability — that many people, young people now paying in, will never be able to receive as much as they're paying."
The Gathering Storm
Today, the lessening ratio of workers contributing to support ever-increasing senior citizen populations can be likened to a gathering thunderstorm. And the storm is fast approaching. Within the United States the ranks of the very old — those in their 80s and beyond — are the fastest growing age group. The cost to care for them will increase by two thirds in the next 15 years. "By the year 2000," said Barbara B. Turrey of the U.S. Census Bureau, "more benefits will be provided to octogenarians than any other subgroup of the aged or for that matter, the general population." Within the United States about three and a half workers support one pensioner. This ratio will drop to two and a half to one within the next decade. In West Germany the ratio now is two to one and demographers calculate the ratio as one to one by the end of this century. Japan has a ratio of 12 to one. This will plunge to around two to one by the year 2000. What a dilemma! As fewer workers support more pensioners, governments are faced with two choices: either raise taxes to unthinkably high levels, or cut benefits to senior citizens. Reports vary widely, but some believe young workers would be taxed up to 40 percent of their gross pay just to pay for old-age pensions. This rising burden on the working population will create a worker-to-senior-citizen generation gap as young people pay increasingly higher taxes. "The present system of old-age care will inevitably collapse," warns West German sociologist Peter von Ehr. "There is no way around it." These programs are too politically sensitive to bear much cutting. Most pension and welfare payments are the only means of support for recipients and to cut back would bring hardships upon the elderly. As David Stockman, U.S. director of the Office of Management and Budget, admits, anyone hoping for any additional budget cuts is a "dreamer." But the longer governments wait before correcting the funding of the inverted pyramid the bigger the problem becomes. The bigger the problem becomes, the more extreme the corrections have to be in order to be effective. The more extreme the plan, the less likely nations will be to adopt it. As one Japanese official warned, "The system can function normally for the time being, but if changes are not made soon, it will go bankrupt in 20 years."
Governments with the best of intentions created old-age retirement programs. Governments also levied taxes for their programs. The State took to itself the responsibility, once exercised by religious institutions, of providing for the elderly. With increased availability of welfare and retirement programs came a lessening need for having children care for elderly parents. The government would provide what was needed. Young people free from their responsibility show declining interest in the well-being of senior citizens. "There should be some government program" or "If we only had more money for this" is the attitude. The aged increasingly are seen as dependents rather than as individuals. What government overlooked is that the law of God, summed up in the Ten Commandments, puts the responsibility not upon government but upon the next generation — the children — to care for elderly parents. "Honor your father and your mother..." is the command (Ex. 20:12, Revised Authorized Version throughout). God's way is for the children to care for and assist their aged parents, who, in the meantime, should have provided for their own financial needs in their old age so children would not have that burden. "For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children" (II Cor. 12:14). It is not primarily a responsibility of politicians in government to care for the elderly!
The Neglected Solution
Man's government is inherently unable to deal effectively with the problem. This is not to speak disparagingly of governmental efforts to help aged populations. It is to say that the problem is too big for man to resolve fully. Whenever a national leader proposes changing a social security-retirement system, the opposition creates such a political storm that no long-term, permanent solution can be enacted. Yet the permanent solution has been available to governments for a number of years. The book containing the solution probably sits upon government desks at this very moment. The book is called the Holy Bible. Humans have neglected to observe that the Bible is a book containing sound economic information. There is not one single facet of life upon which the Bible does not touch and, in principle, tell people what to do. Personal and national finances are clearly explained within this revealed knowledge from God. God's instruction is, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children... " (Prov. 13:22). In today's mixed-up world this becomes, for many, almost impossible. Now the elderly have become over-dependent upon governmental support, which younger taxpayers fund. Governments have always reversed God's instruction. When social security-retirement programs were first created — some about a century ago — the government said in effect, "We will provide for your retirement." People, believing the promises and hopes of socially concerned leaders, often stopped saving for their retirement. And governments, by gradual inflationary practices, further reduced people's incentive to save. Now most elderly no longer depend upon their savings or their families for support. They must rely upon a surrogate family — government. Governments during the Great Depression regarded social security-retirement taxes as a quick-fix measure to balance then-burgeoning budget deficits. They never anticipated life expectancy would ever average 74 years. The system initially seemed to work because more workers paid in than retirees withdrew. Now this has changed. Many people today, believing they will be supported by the welfare-retirement programs, expect the government to support them. They are no longer regarded as a safety net only for those in need. These programs are looked upon as a right. Young people, believing parents would be supported by welfare-retirement programs, now expect governments to support their elderly populations. A recent example demonstrates this point. One family committed their slightly senile parent to an old-age home. In order to avoid payment the family members gave false names and addresses so they could not be traced. The parent; — who gave them life, who cared for them, helped them when they were sick, supported them when they were young — is now left all alone. "I have my own life to live" is the selfish attitude. God foretold this pathetic attitude as a major trait for this age: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves ... disobedient to parents" (II Tim. 3:1-2). Humans in their ignorance have supplanted God's command to respect aged parents. "You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:32). God himself is, in fact, revealed in the Bible as the "Ancient of Days" in the book of Daniel. Thankfully, God will soon supernaturally intervene and establish his government on this earth and enforce his laws (Dan. 2:44-45). The returned Jesus Christ will rule the nations with mercy and with justice for all (Isa. 61:1-3)
The Elderly in Other Societies by Clayton D Steep
For too many elderly people in Western industrial cultures, old age has been turned into a heavy burden, a distressing ordeal. By contrast, among some peoples and cultures, especially those in the Third World, the elderly have traditionally occupied a position of respect, as reflected in the following quotes. (Even in many of these areas, however, the situation is being, or may already have been, altered due largely to political changes and the influence of Western culture.) Thailand: "The Phooyai of Thailand are the revered elders, to whom all important decisions must be referred. They take you each step of the way through life, and may even control the purse strings" (World Health, February/March 1982). Southeast Asia: "In countries of WHO's South-East Asia Region, the elderly have traditionally enjoyed a privileged place.... They have been revered and their advice... sought on matters ranging from the sowing of the next crop, a marriage in the family or the settling of a village dispute, to prescribing a remedy for a stomach ache" (World Health, February/March 1982). The Bantu Tiriki of Kenya: "Right up until adolescence, grandparents and other old people take a dominant role in the informal instruction of children.... Grandchildren in their turn come to view grandparents not only as very kind and pleasant people, but as the storytellers and tutors of worldly wisdom, and, most important, as the people they can depend on to help most in times of real trouble or distress" (Sangree, Peoples of Africa). The Mbuti Pygmies: "... older people always receive respect as such" (Turnbull, Peoples of Africa). The Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert: "80th the father and mother expect and receive respect and obedience from their children.... As long as the father lives, he is the head of the family.... Kung families are responsible for dependents. Thus old, dependent parents are unfailingly supported by their offspring" (Marshall, Peoples of Africa). The Chagga in Tanzania: "Caring for and being cared for is part of life from beginning to end" (Kessler, Human Behavior). The Aborigines of Australia: "The aborigines everywhere and on all occasions pay great respect to old persons" (Thomas Petrie, Reminiscences of Early Queensland). The Peasant People of Yugoslavia: "While children may marry and leave the parental home, they seldom go very far — and almost always one of the offspring remains at home to care for the aging parents" (Kessler, Human Behavior). An Arab student in Lebanon: "'There is no greater disgrace than to abandon the old'" (The Family). The Bedouin: "Among the Bedouin, young men are expected to defer to the older generation at all times" (ibid). The Rajput of India. "Rajput women must cover their heads with their saris when an elder enters the room" (ibid). Immigrants and minorities in the United States: "... students of immigrants point to the value of the extended family (or clan) in providing day care for children and ministering to the health needs of the elderly. Indeed, there are proportionately few blacks and Puerto Ricans in nursing homes" (Current April, 1977) Japan: "The Japanese consider it their natural duty to care for and support an ill or feeble parent; throughout the Orient, to neglect a parent or to leave a parent in the care of strangers is to disgrace the family name" (The Adult Years). China: "Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang wrote a few decades ago: 'How can one be thought wise unless one is thought to be old?... There is no shame attached to the circumstance of one's being served by his children in the sunset of one's life.... The symphony of life should end with a grand finale of peace and serenity and material. comfort and spiritual contentment, and not with the crash of a broken drum or cracked cymbals'" (The Adult Years). The affluent Western world has a lot to learn!