half of the 20th century, much as rapid improvements in life expectancy characterized many nations during the first half of the century. Today, population aging is poised to emerge as a preeminent worldwide demographic phenomenon.
From a historical perspective, population aging represents a human success story. As education and income levels and access to safe, effective contraception have risen, increasing numbers of individuals have been able to achieve their lower reproductive goals. Moreover, most people live much longer lives, in better health, and with different personal expectations than their forebears. For example, people now expect to live for many years after leaving full-time work.
At the same time, the sustained shift in population age structure poses an array of challenges to policy makers. Questions such as the following are rising to the top of many political agendas: How do changes in the ratio of workers to retirees affect the ability of societies to fund old-age security systems? Are we living healthier as well as longer lives, or are our added years accompanied by disabilities and poor health status? In what ways can the structure and the delivery mechanisms of health systems best adapt to the needs of older populations that have a higher prevalence of chronic disease? How do changes in family structure affect the demand for public transfers of money, time, and space? Will shifting age distributions result in increased or decreased national saving and investment? Social scientists have already spent a good deal of time trying to find answers to such questions. The purpose of this report is to inform policy makers about the current state of knowledge, as well as to identify the types of data that, if collected, could assist in policy decisions necessitated by the transition to a more-aged society.
Research conducted during the last decade suggests that efforts to answer questions such as those posed above can benefit substantially from a multidisciplinary approach. Recent empirical work on the importance of cross-domain relationships—between health and retirement decisions, between economic status and health, between family structure and well-being in older age—supports the contention that public policy should be guided by an understanding of the interplay of multiple factors. Policies to address changing worker/retiree ratios, for example, must be informed not only by demographic considerations, but also by examination of incentive structures for retirement, the changing health profile of older workers, and an understanding of household decision making with regard to work and retirement patterns.
Planning for an aging society thus requires innovative research programs that can yield data on interrelated domains of life, a theme to which we return below and throughout this report. Moreover, policies and programs need to be informed by both macro and micro perspectives