One of the great achievements of medical sciences is that people are living longer. Since the 1950s, life expectancy has jumped almost 20 years in developed countries. But this, coupled with declining birth rates, has raised serious debates on the threat of the "demographic time bomb" and how countries would meet the demands of the ever-increasing aging population.

While most studies have so far focused on the potential ill effects of the aging population associated with an increased burden on medical, economic, and pension costs, one study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, focuses on some of the social advantages that may come from this aging population.

"In order to give a more complete picture of population aging, it is necessary to include both positive and negative effects of population aging," says IIASA researcher and lead author Elke Loichinger, in a statement. He also collaborated with researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Rostock, Germany, and the University of Washington for this article.

The researchers chose Germany for this study, as it is an advanced stage of demographic transition with a current fertility rate of around 1.4 and the second oldest average population in the world (median age 44.3 years). They focused on five areas which could benefit from aging population and other demographic factors.

  1. Increased productivity: With an aging population, governments are also seeing improvements in education levels. So while aging population may put a burden on the workforce, better education is expected to increase productivity.
  2. Benefits to the environment: This may sound far-fetched, but the researchers argue that a greater aging population and reducing newer births will result in less consumption of energy sources and lower carbon dioxide emissions.
  3. Sharing wealth with the younger generations: Inheritance would come at a later age, and this inheritance can be used to help children and grandchildren. But with people having fewer children, the inheritance will be split in fewer numbers, giving each a larger share.
  4. Health: With growing age, people will also remain healthier for longer. The results project that the average German man in 2050 will spend 80 percent of his lifetime in good health, compared to 63 percent today.
  5. Quality of life: People will spend more quality time pursuing their hobbies and interests, and there will be an overall balance between leisure and work.

These findings can be applicable throughout aging populations, say the researchers. For example, increase in educational attainment is almost universal around the globe. “The finding that the elderly belonging to subsequent cohorts have better health has also been shown in other contexts. Depending on a country's stage in the demographic transition process, the results from the analyses of bequests and CO2 emissions are also generalizable," Loichinger said.

Source: Kluge F, Zagheni E, Loichinger E, Vogt T. The advantages of demographic change after the wave: Fewer and older but healthier, greener, and more productive? PLOS ONE. 2014.