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A Revolution Of The Ages

— When unrest in Egypt brought down a dictator, I asked myself: Would I have been one of those people staying up all night in Tahrir Square protesting, risking arrest, injury or even death. I think if I were 23 years old, unmarried, unemployed, with nothing else to do and no promise that my situation would change, I definitely would have been out there.

Demographics tell great stories. A lot of news reports have mentioned that more than 60 percent of societies in the Arab Middle East are under the age of 30. The median age in Egypt is 24. That creates a restless, active society, like the one we saw in the U.S. in the late 1960s when baby boomers went to college. In a poor countries with high unemployment, those demographics create restless and angry societies, especially when they’re concentrated in big cities.

While Egypt has unrest, here in the U.S. we’ve got pensions going bankrupt. Peter Rowe had an article in today’s Union Tribune about how many more of us in San Diego will be old in 20 years. The article cites SANDAG estimates that the county’s population over 65 will nearly double by 2030.

The aging of the developing world is seen very clearly in Europe and Japan. While the median age of Egyptians is 24 the median of Germans is 44. There’s good reason to fear that in 20 years Europe will be one big old folks home.

I’ll leave you with one more article to read. New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell wrote about demographics in a very interesting story that was published nearly five years ago. It explored the way demographics can make societies financially sound. The key to it is the “dependency ratio:” The number of people of working age compared to the numbers of people in school or in retirement.

Obviously, the more people who’ve got working, and the fewer people who are “dependent,” the better off your society is financially. There’s plenty of money being paid into pensions and social security and there are not too many people drawing on them. This is why the bulge of baby boomers nearing retirement in San Diego is so scary.

What’s the moral of the story? Maybe we need to have more children. Maybe we need to retire later. Just don’t count on the kids to look after you when you hit 65.

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