Monday, December 10, 2012

Population by Age Groups

The Wall Street Journal carries a story on its front page today titled “Consumer Spending Is Losing Its Vigor.” That got me thinking—because, what with the years piling up, well, so am I: losing my vigor. Which then, logically—because the active mind does not lose its vigor—I got to wondering about a subject usually labeled “the aging population.” I found some useful data on that subject in the 2012 Statistical Abstract (link, select Table 6). Using those data I am here showing some graphics about that “aging.”


This is a quite revealing chart, isn’t it? It shows the shares of total population by age groups in some detail by decades, drawn from the ten-year census of the population. Notice particularly those “humps,” let’s call them, of which the first was quite high—the biggest age group in each year. In 1980 it was formed by those aged 15 through 29, in 1990 25 through 39, in 2000 30 through 44, in 2010 40 through 54. Meanwhile, the 65 through 74 age group, which forms a peak of its own, has essentially remained unchanged. It was 7 percent of the population in 2010, peaked in 1990 at 7.3 percent, and was 6.9 percent in 1980. Peak is the appropriate word, although in this period, it remains a secondary peak. After that comes a steep drop down the, ah, Aging Cliff. No shortage of cliffs these days.

Consumer spending is losing its vigor? Well, it might be due to the population losing its vigor. As we approach that second peak and the cliff, the less incline are we to do the boys-toys or the girls-wardrobe thing. And the more of us are in that group…


In this second graphic, I’ve compressed the age groups more in order to show the pattern more clearly. In the aggregate, the 15-44 group, the darling of all advertisers, remains the largest—but notice that it is decreasing. Meanwhile the less vigorous age groups are all growing apace—not least the 85 and older.

Around our place we’ve long had a saying—the consequence of much trend-contemplation—that “Demography Rules!” Oh, if only Congress could make us younger by the 2013 Age Reversal and Rejuvenation Act. President Obama would surely sign it into law. But there are limits to everything—not least the power of Congress. If it had the moxy, we’d all be aged between 15 and 44.

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