Immigration in an Aging Society

Center for Immigration Studies, Apr. 2005

Many advocates of high immigration argue that it fundamentally changes the nation’s age structure, and is very helpful in solving the problem of an aging society. Demographic data, however, show that immigration has only a very small impact on the problem. While immigrants do tend to arrive relatively young, and have higher fertility than natives, immigrants age just like everyone else, and the differences with natives are not large enough to fundamentally alter the nation’s age structure. The debate over immigration should focus on other areas where it actually has a significant effect.

Among this Backgrounder’s findings:

  • In 2000 the average age of an immigrant was 39, which is actually about four years older than the average age of a native-born American.
  • Even focusing on only recent immigration reveals little impact on aging. Excluding all 22 million immigrants who arrived after 1980 from the 2000 Census increases the average age in the United States by only about four months.
  • In 2000 66.2 percent of the population was of working-age (15 to 64). Excluding post-1980 immigrants it is 64.6 percent.
  • Looking at the full impact of post-1980 immigrants reveals that if they and all their U.S.-born children are not counted, the working-age share would have been 65.9 percent in 2000, almost exactly the same as the 66.20 percent when they are all included.
  • Immigration also does not explain the relatively high U.S. fertility rate. In 2000 the U.S. fertility rate was 2.1 children per woman, compared to 1.4 for Europe, but if all immigrants are excluded the rate would still have been 2.0.
  • Looking to the future, Census Bureau projections indicate that if net immigration averaged 100,000 to 200,000 annually, the working age share would be 58.7 percent in 2060, while with net immigration of roughly 900,000 to one million, it would be 59.5 percent.
  • Census projections are buttressed by Social Security Administration (SAA) estimates showing that, over the next 75 years, net annual legal immigration of 800,000 a year versus 350,000 would create a benefit equal to only 0.77 percent of the program’s projected expenditures.
  • It is not clear that even this tiny benefit exists, because SSA assumes legal immigrants will have earnings and resulting tax payments as high as natives from the moment they arrive, which is contrary to a large body of research.

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