The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The number of people age 65 and older more than tripled over the past half-century to a record 420 million worldwide. In general, seniors are better educated, retiring earlier and living longer.
Vast differences in quality of life exist between older people living in the United States and Japan, for example, and those in Malaysia, Costa Rica and other developing countries where the biggest increases in this population are expected.
The U.S. government study being released Thursday also shows the predicted increase will test governments' ability to address health care, retirement benefits and other issues that affect seniors, experts say.
"Global aging is occurring at a rate never seen before and we will need to pay close attention to how countries respond to the challenges and opportunities of growing older," said Nancy Gordon, associate director for demographic programs at the U.S. Census Bureau.
The 65-and-older population increased from 131 million in 1950 to 420 million in 2000, said the report from the Census Bureau and the National Institute on Aging.
Over the 1990s, the increase was about 2 percent each year. The one-year increase of 9.5 million between 1999 and 2000 was unprecedented, the report said.
In the United States, the 2000 census showed about 12 percent, or 35 million of the nation's 281.4 million people, were at least 65. That compares with 13 percent of the country's 248.7 million people a decade ago.
By 2030, one in every five American will be 65 as the baby boom generation ages, the study projects.
Among the other forecasts:
Italy and Japan, at 28 percent, are predicted to have the greatest percentage of older people.
More than one Japanese in 10 is expected to be at least 85 in 2030.
Southeast Asian and less developed countries are expected to have the biggest percentage increases between now and 2030. The 65-and-over populations in Singapore, Malaysia, Colombia and Costa Rica are expected to at least triple in size.