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Grand Challenges of Our Aging Society: Workshop Summary
population shrinks, he argued, only if current retirement age is maintained, if productivity declines, and if people fail to save after age 50. None of these need be the case. The challenge is to devise and undertake policy action that will generate different outcomes.
The story in each country will vary somewhat. The fertility rate in the United States, higher than in many industrialized countries, will mitigate the dependency of the aged on workers. Global flows of capital and labor could also diffuse the effects of population aging in many countries. Differences in demography and the extent of globalization could result in significant differences across countries. No country will experience population aging in isolation, and all will be affected by it.
What are the areas of agreement and controversy regarding the macroeconomic impacts of aging? There is substantial agreement that an aging population could pose serious challenges to any country’s financial base. In terms of basic economic inputs, the supply of labor is key to the size and sustainability of the economic pie. The years added to life as longevity increases must be active years with continued participation in the labor force on the part of the older population. Börsch-Supan declared himself optimistic that current unused capacity in the labor force could be mobilized. New laws and public policies are essential. Speaking from a European context, he mentioned changing the retirement age so that people remain in the workforce longer, making schools more efficient so that workers enter the labor force earlier, and providing child care so that women who are mothers can rejoin the workforce more quickly. Migration could also help the labor supply, but the volume provided by migration will not be sufficient. The number of new workers required to balance the aging of the population is far too large to be met by immigration.
Maintaining the quality of labor is also essential. The health and human capital of aging workers are critical to their productivity. Investments in health should be made across the life course. Human capital at advanced ages should be sustained and renewed through lifelong learning, continued training, and utilization of experience, but age profiles of productivity are controversial. Some studies indicate that productivity declines after age 40. However, Börsch-Supan stated that the evidence for this is not solid. In his view, the best evidence indicates that productivity is flat, indeed, “astoundingly flat.” Proper management is the key factor in determining ongoing productivity of labor. Later, in responding to a question regarding globalization and the loss of jobs offshore, Börsch-Supan offered his view that jobs requiring experience will not be transferred to offshore locations. He speculated on a multitier system and a new international division of labor in which production might be offshore in developing countries while design and innovation remain in developed countries. While innovations appear to be the province of younger people,