"Being old in the 21st century isn't going to be anything like being old in the 20th century, and we shouldn't be stuck with the 20th-century stereotypes," said John Beard, director of the department of aging and life course for the World Health Organization, speaking at a Milken Institute conference on aging as a global investing opportunity.
The panel of experts emphasized that what's really going to change the world isn't so much longevity, although that is a factor. The driving force is the combination of people living longer and people having fewer children, which will raise the average age of populations all over the world dramatically.
Thanks in large part to the women's movement -- and in the U.S., the civil rights movement -- birthrates have diminished significantly. "You have a profound shift in the proportion of old to young. These kinds of numbers are unsustainable with the 20th-century model," said Michael Hodin, executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging for consultancy High Lantern Group, which helps companies focus on emerging business opportunities.
As an example, Hodin pointed toward predictions that 49 percent of the population of Italy and 55 percent of the population of Japan will be older than 50 by 2033. He said, flatly, that there simply won't be enough money to support an aging population that depends on pensions for income and requires expensive, subsidized health care. Older people will have to work, and companies will need them to work, he said.
Percentage of population age 50-plus (selected countries)
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Milken Institute
"Global corporations looking for talent won't be able to rely only on 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds. There won't be enough of them. Corporations will have to hire people who are in their 50, 60s, 70s and even 80s," Hodin predicted.
By 2020, just six years from now, there will be 1 billion people worldwide older than 60, Hodin said. Unlike older people in previous generations, this aging segment of the population is looking ahead to a long life. Many of them are healthy, and they have more discretionary income than any other generation. Businesses that are slow to recognize this reality will lose out, Hodin said.
"Anyone who thinks the 20th-century model is going to work for society going forward is nuts," he said. "Change from both a corporate and societal point of view is essential."
Do you think companies are overlooking business opportunities that might appeal to people over 50? If so, what are they?
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