Will the greys be in the black?

The Economics of an Aging Society. First edition
May 27, 2005

There are few textbooks on the economics of ageing. This is an exception, written from a US perspective by five authorities on the subject. It covers many topics one would expect: demographic trends, retirement policy, pensions, disability and the finance of long-term care.

Generally, it is bullish about the prospects for the elderly in the US - incomes of the elderly have risen faster than incomes of workers, poverty among senior citizens has declined (although there is an increase in the number of very elderly widows living alone), and morbidity rates seem to have fallen in any given age bracket. The main concern in US ageing policy seems to be the explosive growth in the costs of long-term healthcare, especially in public programmes.

From a European (and specifically UK) perspective, the content and the conclusions are somewhat less pertinent. Reference to the ageing literature in other countries is limited largely to research carried out by the authors themselves. Issues concerning other countries - for example, questions over the sustainability of European public pension programmes, and the demographic transitions in countries such as Italy and Japan - are largely glossed over. Even the dramatic ageing scenarios arising from, say, China’s “one child policy” or the HIV-Aids epidemic in Africa, are ignored.

The book may fall between two stools in another respect. It is an introduction to the economics of ageing for intermediate undergraduate economists. The level of economic analysis is basic, so the material may be too simple for, say, a final-year public economics module. On the other hand, by covering only narrowly defined topics in the economics of ageing, it may be of limited interest to non-economists. There is no discussion of other demographic issues such as family composition and demographic change, or of other ageing-related issues in sociology, psychology and epidemiology. So this is a very good book for its primary target, but teachers may want to supplement it with other reading.

Richard Disney is professor of economics, Nottingham University.

The Economics of an Aging Society. First edition

Author - Robert L. Clark, Richard V. Burkhauser, Marilyn Moon, Joseph F. Quinn and Timothy M. Smeeding
Publisher - Blackwell
Pages - 362
Price - £65.00 and £21.99
ISBN - 0 631 22615 X and 22616 8

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