Instead of sitting in a rocker and watching the world go by, the 4-year surge of “baby boomer bulge” seniors are seeking new activities and new ways to contribute to their communities.
As 2014 gets underway, older Americans are not destined for lives of disability and dependency, which was once the norm. Even if they’re supposed to be retired, seniors continue to make valuable contributions at the highest levels of business, government and culture. This is true around the globe as well as in the U.S. It’s one reason this topic, “Redefining Aging,” at this year’s Davos meeting has drawn attention, based on the World Economic Forum (WEF) book, Global Population Ageing: Peril or Promise.
Here are five of the most important developments on the aging front to look forward to this year:
The senior market will continue to explode. Numerous sectors are realizing the commercial opportunity that longer lives and the boomer bulge bring. The fashion industry and travel sector get it, and consumer goods companies understand the importance of competing for the over-60 population, which will climb to one billion people globally in less than a decade. In view of the low birth rates in country after country, we’re rapidly approaching the moment when there will be more of us over age 60 than under 15. Millennials, watch out!
Keeping people working well into their 60s, 70s, and even 80s will be seen as a competitive advantage. The WEF’s Global Agenda Council on Aging is creating a set of principles to guide business on this, and 2014 will see the rollout of a so-called silver economy, from Europe and Japan to South Korea and America.
Older adults will be seen as an economic asset, not a fiscal liability. The over-60 demographic is a great source of economic growth. The G8 is leading a global effort to beat Alzheimer’s. In 2014, both the OECD and APEC are placing population aging prominently on their agendas, and leadership by China and Japan will be central. Japan will soon sell more adult diapers than baby diapers, and China’s over-60 population will continue to swell, one day outnumbering the entire population of the European Union.
New demographic realities will trump old retirement policies. Most of the concepts that shape our understanding of aging – retirement, pensions and the like – are built upon Otto von Bismarck’s 19th century program.
It was simple for Bismarck (and, later, FDR) to identify and honor 65 as the decisive age. Most people were dead by then. In Bismarck’s day, the average life span in Germany was about 47. In 1932 in the U.S., life expectancy was 63.3 years. But in 2014, when women in the U.S. live to 81 on average and men to 76, retiring in our early 60s is not fiscally sustainable, especially when, with lower and lower birth rates, there will be fewer of us in the working category.
Aging will compete as a global development goal. The global community that created the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will have a chance in 2014 to recognize its big miss. In their first effort at establishing MDGs at the turn of the century, they whiffed on aging. This year, they can revisit the framework and incorporate aging into their post-2015 goals. As Standard & Poor’s has made clear, “No other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances and national policies as the irreversible rate at which the world’s population is growing older.”
Cities around the globe will become more age-friendly. Aging and urbanization will merge to transform how we live in the 21st century. We’ll continue to have the opportunity to reinvent how older adults can live healthier, more active lives within our cities.
Top priorities for the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities initiative include finding solutions for well-recognized health issues such as Alzheimer’s and other non-communicable diseases including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Other priorities are muscular-skeletal deterioration and skin and vision impairment. The role of cities in enabling older people with these health conditions to live fuller, more productive lives is becoming increasingly important.
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