We're about to see a mind-blowing demographics shift unprecedented in human history

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The Demographic Cliff

The world is about to see a mind-blowing demographic situation that will be a first in human history: There are about to be more elderly people than young children.

For some time now, economists have observed that the proportion of elderly adults around the world is rising, while the proportion of younger children is falling.

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But within a few years, just before 2020, people aged 65 and over will begin to outnumber children under the age of 5, according to a recent report by the US Census Bureau.

And these two age groups will continue to grow in opposite directions: The proportion of the population aged 65 and up will continue increasing, while the proportion of the population aged 5 and under will continue decreasing.

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We're about to see a mind-blowing demographics shift unprecedented in human history
Yasutaro Koide, 112, receives the Guinness World Records certificate as he is formally recognized as the world's oldest man at a nursing home in Nagoya, central Japan, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Koide was born on March 13, 1903 and worked as a tailor when he was younger. He became the worldâs oldest man with the death of Sakari Momoi of Tokyo in July at age 112. At left is his grandchild Aya Kikuchi, 49. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
The world's oldest man, 112-year-old Yasutaro Koide (R), receives a framed certificate from the Guinness World Records as the world's oldest man, in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture in central Japan on August 21, 2015. Koide became the worlds oldest man after Japan's Sakari Momoi, also 112 but one month older, died in July this year. JAPAN OUT AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2015 file photo, Yasutaro Koide smiles upon being formally recognized as the world's oldest man by the Guinness World Records at a nursing home in Nagoya, central Japan. The world's oldest man has died at the age of 112, two months short of his 113th birthday. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said he died early Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)
Yasutaro Koide, left, the 112-year-old Japanese, is helped by his grandchild Aya Kikuchi, 49, as he prepares to receive the Guinness World Records certificate as the world's oldest man at a nursing home in Nagoya, central Japan, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Koide was born on March 13, 1903 and worked as a tailor when he was younger. He became the worldâs oldest man with the death of Sakari Momoi of Tokyo in July at age 112. Japanese sign reads: "World's oldest man certified by the Guinness." (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Yasutaro Koide, 112, holds the Guinness World Records certificate as he is formally recognized as the world's oldest man at a nursing home in Nagoya, central Japan, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Koide was born on March 13, 1903 and worked as a tailor when he was younger. He became the worldâs oldest man with the death of Sakari Momoi of Tokyo in July at age 112. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Yasutaro Koide, the 112-year-old living in the central Japanese city of Nagoya, smiles upon being formally recognized as the world's oldest man by the Guinness World Records at a nursing home in Nagoya Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Koide was born on March 13, 1903 and worked as a tailor when he was younger. He became the worlds oldest man with the death of Sakari Momoi of Tokyo in July at age 112. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Yasutaro Koide, seated center, 112, holding the Guinness World Records certificate, poses for a group photo after he is formally recognized as the world's oldest man at a nursing home in Nagoya, central Japan, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Koide was born on March 13, 1903 and worked as a tailor when he was younger. He became the worlds oldest man with the death of Sakari Momoi of Tokyo in July at age 112. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
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In fact, according to the Census Bureau, by 2050, those aged 65 and up will make up an estimated 15.6% of the global population — more than double that of children under the age of 5, who will make up an estimated 7.2%.

"This unique demographic phenomenon of the 'crossing' is unprecedented," the report's authors noted.

There are and will continue to be differences between regions. Europe will remain the oldest region through 2050 with over 25% of Europeans aged over 65 at that time, even though the pace of aging will slow.

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Additionally, although the percentage of China's and India's populations over the age of 65 may not be as large as that of various European countries or Japan, their overall populations are enormous, which means that the total number of older people living in China and India will be much larger than in other countries.

By comparison, some of the youngest countries will be located in South-Central Asia (Afghanistan), Western Asia (Kuwait, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia) and South-Eastern Asia (Laos).

In any case, you can see this incredible demographic trend in the chart below. The spot where the two lines cross indicates the moment when the percentages of elderly and under-5 populations are equal, and after that the share of older people will outnumber the share of younger children.

Screen Shot 2016 03 31 at 10.04.21 AMAlan Crowhurst / Stringer / Getty Images

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