On population, U.S. remains in full denial mode
The nature of work, too, would likely be reorganized. Once, six-day work weeks were routine, as were 10 to 12 hour work days. Pressure from labor caused the developed world to adapt. If, by the middle or latter part of this century, workers who perform hard manual labor can only be secured by offering shorter-than-eight-hour days, we’ll have to adapt again. Jobs designed in lockstep at a time when households most typically had one, full-time (male) wage earner might have to become more flexible (something that is already overdue) to facilitate the part-time participation of older workers in the labor market not as an act of desperation but rather in a way that, consistent with any age-based constraints, facilitates participation in productive activity.
And, yes, it would cost more as a society to support those who are not working. (News bulletin: it will cost more in any scenario, even if we insist on punishing more older people with decades of life not much better than subsistence level). The question will be the old one, and one that should be easy to answer for a society that, unlike most others, remains remarkably wealthy: is maintaining massive inequality of wealth on an individual level more important than trying to maximize the quality of life for most citizens?
Better now than later
For a long time, India, whose population now exceeds 1.2 billion people, did not act. Its population is estimated to grow to somewhere between 1.5 billion and 1.9 billion people in coming decades.
As an article on more recent Indian attempts to control its birthrate pointed out, “Indian leaders recognize that [those massive growth scenarios] must be avoided.” The article quoted a demographer who said, “It’s already late…It’s definitely high time for India to act.”
The U.S. has the opportunity to be a lot more prescient, but we will have no chance to be unless we begin to discuss all of the consequences of being a country that continues to grow, and allow ourselves to imagine the potential benefits of alternative futures.