Le vieillissement de la population et l’action publique

EDIMBOURG – Il y a un siècle, les enfants étaient dix fois plus nombreux que les personnes âgées dans la plupart des pays européens. Aujourd’hui, le nombre de personnes âgées de plus de 65 ans est le même que celui des adolescents de 16 ans. Au Royaume-Uni, près d’une personne sur six a 65 ans ou plus, contre une sur huit aux Etats-Unis et une sur quatre au Japon.

Cette évolution s’explique par une baisse du taux de natalité et de la mortalité infantile dans la première moitié du XXe siècle, couplée à l’augmentation de l’espérance de vie au cours des dernières décennies. Mais quelles qu’en soient les causes, nombreux sont ceux à s’inquiéter du fait que dans les prochaines décennies, un vieillissement rapide de la population pèsera sur les systèmes de santé, de protection et d’assurance sociales, exerçant des pressions intenables sur les finances publiques.

Bien que ces craintes ne soient pas sans fondement, les débats sur le vieillissement de la population tendant à exagérer l’ampleur, la rapidité et les effets de cette tendance, en raison d’une méconnaissance fondamentale de la manière dont vieillissent les populations. Contrairement aux individus, les populations ne suivent pas un cycle de naissance, de vieillissement et de mort. Et si la répartition des âges peut varier, l’âge lui-même n’est pas une manière fiable de mesurer la productivité d’une population à mesure que s’accroît la durée de vie.

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