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The world stands on the threshold of a stunning demographic transformation brought about by declining birthrates and rising life expectancy.

For most of human history, the elderly only comprised a tiny fraction of the population, never more than 3 or 4 percent until about a century ago. In today’s developed world, they comprise roughly 15 percent of the population. By mid-century, the share is on track to reach 25 percent—and that’s just the average. In some fast-aging European countries, the share will be approaching 35 percent and in Japan it will be approaching 40 percent. Along the way, the populations of most developed countries will cease growing and in some cases enter a steep decline.
The developing world as a whole is still much younger, but it too is aging—with some countries traversing the entire demographic distance from young and growing to old and stagnant or declining at a breathtaking pace. By the 2040s, Mexico will be nearly as old as the United States—and China will be older. Meanwhile, South Korea will be vying with Germany, Italy, and Japan for the title of oldest country on earth.

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