How Well Do Societies Meet the Consumption Needs of All Age Groups?
National Transfer Accounts Project
NTA Bulletin, No. 4
Honolulu: Population and Health Studies, East-West Center
A steady, adequate level of consumption is a critical measure of wellbeing at every stage of life. Working-age adults support their consumption largely through labor income. But an important concern for families and policymakers alike is to support the education, healthcare, and other consumption needs of children and the elderly, who generally earn little income of their own.
Until recently, little has been known about consumption patterns among specific age groups or how these might be affected as population age structures change over time. But now the National Transfer Accounts (NTA) project is bringing together and analyzing information on private and public consumption at every age, covering economies at widely varying stages of economic development.
In general, NTA findings show that societies meet the consumption needs of broad population age groups--children, working-age adults, and the elderly--fairly equitably. This general pattern holds whether societies are rich or poor and whether people rely largely on families, governments, or financial markets to support their consumption. There are some interesting variations, however. The consumption of children is lowest, relative to the consumption of working-age adults, in poor, high-fertility societies. As low fertility results in smaller numbers of children, governments and families alike have an opportunity to invest more in each child's health and education. NTA findings show that some economies are meeting this challenge better than others.
In some, but not all, high-income economies, consumption rises very steeply among the oldest age groups, while in middle- and low-income economies, consumption tend to be flat throughout old age. High per capita consumption by the elderly poses two important policy questions. First, are current consumption patterns based on the values of a society, or do they reflect waste and inefficiency, particularly within healthcare systems? And second, will current high consumption costs be sustainable as elderly populations expand?