Study offers glimpse of what America’s aging population might expect in 2050

With some of the world’s largest aging populations, Italians and Germans may have advice for Americans about caring for older adults.

Today, 13 percent of Americans are age 65 or older, far less than Germany and Italy thanks to higher birth and immigration rates, says Juliana Horowitz, associate director of research at Pew Research Center. By 2050, one out of five Americans are expected to be at least 65-years-old, levels currently seen in Italy and Germany.

In a report published today, Horowitz analyzed responses people gave during nationally representative telephone interviews in late 2014 to compare their attitudes about long-term care and aging in the United States, Italy and Germany.

“Aging has been happening at a much slower rate here than in those two countries,” she said. “This allows us to have a glimpse into the future.”

And what did she see?

In all three countries, most adult children who provide needed financial assistance to an older parent see that act as a responsibility, the study found. Nearly nine out of 10 Italians and three-quarters of Americans who fit this profile said they felt this way. Among Germans, about six out of 10 said they felt it was a responsibility.

Government distribution of aid can help explain these attitudes to some extent, Horowitz said.

In Germany and Italy, for example, more than two-thirds of income for older adults comes in the form of government assistance, she said, while in the United States, it’s 38 percent. Also, more older Americans tend to remain in the labor force longer than in Europe.

“Western Europeans, much more than Americans, see a bigger role for government, whereas Americans see an individual approach,” Horowitz said.

When it comes to retirement savings apart from social security, most Germans and Americans say they are setting money aside, while only 23 percent of Italians said they are saving money.

Among younger Germans, Italians and Americans alike, there remains skepticism about whether or not they will benefit from social security once they are ready to retire, the study showed. Fully, 41 percent of respondents in both Germany and the United States and 53 percent of Italians said they expected no such benefits.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the current and projected numbers for the percent of Americans age 65 or older.