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JAMA Revisited
December 22/29, 2015

The Optimum Population for the United States

JAMA. 2015;314(24):2695. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.12168

The changed complexion of national life which is portended by present trends in population has been discussed frequently by The Journal.1 All the evidence of probabilities foreshadows a more or less static population or possibly a slight decrease late in this century, with a shift in age groupings resulting in a larger percentage of the total in the older years and a smaller one of children. This prospect, though contrary to an accustomed pattern, need not give rise to alarm. If, for example, the productive age group is considered to be between the ages of 20 and 65, the percentage of the total population between these ages is sure to increase for another ten years at least and will, even in the event of a slight decrease in total population, remain amply sufficient to support the groups of the population which are dependent on account of age. The percentage in the groups dependent by reason of age may not change much: with an increase in the number of elderly dependents a decrease in the number of children who are dependents is likely to occur. From a careful consideration of the probabilities, Burch2 concludes that serious economic problems are not likely to result from this change in proportion of “youngsters” and “oldsters” and that there is little chance of dependent old people controlling the economic and political situation. Those over the age of 65 can never hope to cast more than a quarter of the total vote of the nation, even if no changes are made to restrict their political influence—a possibility with which one must reckon.

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