Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 2 » Intergenerational Justice - Historical Background, Philosophical And Ethical Background, Contractarian Approaches To Intergenerational Justice, Utilitarian Approaches, Libertarian Approaches

Intergenerational Justice - Historical Background

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While the problem of allocating scarce societal resources among age groups has always existed, during the past two centuries this problem has gained prominence in many developed nations. Greater attention to intergenerational justice is in part due to the fact that the societies of many developed nations are aging. Unlike the aging of individuals, which occurs in a progressive, chronological fashion, societies are said to age whenever their number of older members increases relative to their number of younger members. Most industrial nations, including the United States, have been aging since at least 1800. In 1800, the demographic makeup of developing countries resembled that of today's Third World countries: roughly half the population was under the age of sixteen, with few people living beyond the age of sixty. Since that time, these countries have become developed nations, and have witnessed increases in life expectancy and decreases in fertility rates. Thus, since 1950, the ranks of Americans age sixty-five and older has more than doubled, while the number of persons over the age of eighty-five has more than quadrupled. These trends are forecast to continue until around the middle of the twenty-first century. At the other end of the age span, developed countries have seen a decline in the proportion of young people. After 1964 the total fertility rate began to plummet, reaching a low of 1.7 in 1976, a figure below the replacement rate of the population. These twin phenomena have dramatically increased the proportion of older persons in developed nations. At the same time, the age profile of many Third World countries remains heavily weighted toward younger age groups.

A relatively larger number of older citizens increases the demand for a variety of services used primarily, or disproportionately, by older individuals. For example, consumption of health care services rises sharply with age. In the United States, persons sixty-five and over represent 12 percent of the population, yet they account for 33 percent of the country's total personal health care expenditures, exclusive of resource costs. Between 1980 and 2040, the demand for health care among the oldest Americans (those seventy-five and over) is forecast to increase at a dramatic rate. There will be a 265 percent increase in physician visits, a 291 percent increase in days of hospital care, and a 318 percent increase in nursing-home residents among this age group.

Contemporary debates over intergenerational justice frequently focus on the problem of whether society should limit the share of scarce resources it devotes to the elderly. For example, in the United States, where the old increasingly outnumber the young, debates about limiting health care expenditures for older individuals have emerged in political and philosophical discussions during the latter part of the twentieth century.

Intergenerational Justice - Philosophical And Ethical Background [next]

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