Wellesley Economist Courtney Coile Explores the Impact of the Country's Aging Population and Workforce

March 19, 2014

The number of people age 65 years or older was 39.6 million in 2009 (the latest year for which data is available). By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million Americans in this age group. In the year 2000, this group represented 12.4 percent of the population. They are expected to grow to be 19 percent of the population by 2030—this according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging. What impact might this have on the country and our economy? Courtney Coile, Class of 1966 Associate Professor of Economics and Director of the Knapp Social Science Center, recently joined Public Radio International’s The Takeaway to explore this question.

“On the cost side, I think everyone’s mind goes immediately to the expenditures on the elderly through Social Security, Medicare, and other programs… and the fact that longer life expectancies put greater pressure on those programs and therefore government finances,” Coile said. “But it’s important to think of longer life spans as representing an opportunity as well.”

Coile continued, “There’s a contribution to society that comes from longer life…. People have the ability to work longer. Rates of labor force participation at ages 65 and above for both men and women are higher than they’ve been in the last 15 or 20 years, and they’re trending up. There’s increasing evidence that remaining active doing work or work-like activities has cognitive benefits for the individual… there’s a real possibility for a rich and rewarding third-act that has benefits for the society as well.”

WNYC's The Takeway presented a weeklong series pondering the significance of aging, and aging well in today's world. Listen to Coile’s full interview, Adapting Society to an Ever-Growing, Ever-Aging Population, on the The Takeaway website.

Courtney Coile is a public economist who is interested in using economic principles and research to inform thinking about critical public policy issues. Her research centers on issues in the economics of aging, particularly the economic determinants of workers’ retirement decisions.