Age & Reason
4 New Year’s Resolutions for a New American ‘Age’
Sunday, December 30, 2012 - 10:00am
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Over the past year or so the aging of the population has gone from a back-burner issue to something that is top-of-mind for people all over the world. So it would be a shame if 2013 failed to build on this momentum and to turn the issue into a great driver of change in the 21st century.

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions this year, maybe it’s time to try something different. As the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, here are some resolutions that could really make a difference:

For Baby Boomers: “This year, I’ll stop thinking about golfing in Florida and start thinking about how to stay active and productive.”

With boomers (all 450 million of them worldwide) living routinely now into their 80s and 90s, the bygone ideas of retiring in the 60s is economically unfeasible not to mention deleterious to one’s social, mental, and physical health. A longer, more active aging process will be a boon to boomers themselves and the rest of society at large.

The boomers inherited a herculean economy, and, if they can stay productive, that’s exactly what they can hand off to their children and grandchildren.

For Generation X and Y: “This year, I’ll plan differently. The ways I think about work, education, and health must adapt to a career that may last up to six decades.”

Maybe the greatest shortfall of 2012 was failing to recognize that population aging isn’t just about dealing with “more old people.” Population aging matters to people of all ages. It’s a consequence of low birth rates globally that structurally change our public policy construction from the European social welfare state to America’s entitlement system, which simply cannot work at a time when there are so many more of us over 60 among working age cohorts.  

What we see today is a mere preview of what will emerge throughout our 21st century, and today’s younger generations must prepare.  How can we not, in this demographic reality, truly change the retirement age even as we reimagine a life course of ongoing learning and education for working well beyond 65

For Business Leaders: “This year, we’ll develop new career paths that capitalize on the potential of an aging workforce.”

As cutting-edge businesses have already shown, an aging workforce can be a competitive advantage. But business leaders must be proactive. They need to create the right kinds of policies financial, educational, and social frameworks for caregiving, as well as programs for wellness to keep an aging workforce happy, committed, and productive. The “age-friendly workplace” is the future of work, and businesses would be savvy to get ahead of the curve.

For Public Policy Elites: “This year, we’ll ensure that aging is seen as a question of economic growth and development, not just health and social wellbeing.”

Population aging is ushering in an entirely new society structure, and 20th-century norms will bankrupt 21st-century balance sheets. From the U.S.’s “fiscal cliff” to Europe’s “recession,” to Japan’s next “lost decade,” developed nations can no longer afford programs that rely on different ratios of old-to-young. In China, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil and other emerging markets, leaders should take note. You are aging far more quickly than did the developed nations, and today’s growth cannot be sustained without policies to prepare for tomorrow’s demographics.

We can get this right, through innovation, optimism and a focus on how the 21st century must embed culturally a “new middle age” (55-75). But it will take leadership from across multiple disciplines of society for aging to become the greatest success story of the 21st century.

Let’s hope our resolutions this December 31st spark another year of commitment to the issue of population aging and why it’s as central to economic growth in the U.S. as it is globally. We can’t afford for people in their 60s, 70s or 80s to behave as they did a century ago. And we must recognize that the arithmetic of more people over the age of 60 than under the age 14 fundamentally changes the dynamics of economics and social welfare in our time.

Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.