Older Americans will outnumber youths in just 17 years

Older Americans will outnumber youths in just 17 years
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The number of Americans over retirement age will be greater than those under 18 by 2035, the first time in American history.

New projections from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 17 years from now, 78 million Americans will have reached the age of 65, while just 76.4 million Americans will be under the age of 18.

The surge in retirement-age Americans is fueled by an aging baby boom generation, which is living longer than ever. All baby boomers will be older than 65 by 2030.

"The aging of Baby Boomers means that within just a couple decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history," said Jonathan Vespa, a Census Bureau demographer.

At the same time Boomers are reaching retirement age, population growth is slowing. In 2017, the Census Bureau estimated that the nation's population grew by 2.4 million people; by 2030, the population will grow at a rate of about 2.1 million per year.

That's because as boomers age and eventually die, population growth attributed to natural increase — that is, the number of births subtracting the number of deaths — will fall. 

Net international migration will then play a bigger role in growing the population. By 2030, immigrants will make up a greater share of total U.S. population growth than will natural increases.

Those who are born in the United States are increasingly diverse. For the first time in U.S. history fewer than half the children born in the country non-Hispanic white. Today, about 199 million Americans are white; by 2060, that number is projected to fall — even as the country's population grows — to 179 million.

As natural population increase slows, the American populace will continue to age. The median age of an American today is 38; by 2060, it will be 43 years of age.

By 2060, Americans over the age of 65 will outnumber those under the age of 18 by almost 15 million people. That threatens to put strains on the nation's social safety net, as fewer workers generate Social Security income for more retirees. By 2020, there will be about 3.5 working-age adults for every retirement-age person; by 2060, there will be just 2.5 working-age adults for every retiree.

Today, America has the 62nd highest median age of any nation, on par with countries like New Zealand, Australia and Norway and just ahead of China. The African nation of Niger has the youngest median age, at just over 15 years old; the principality of Monaco is the oldest in the world, with a median age of 53, six years ahead of second-place Japan.

The Census Bureau data comes from the 2017 National Population Projections.