In "Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World's Population and How it Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation," Ted C. Fishman states that "when a society does not have enough young people, it is forced to change, often in surprising ways." He explains that in forty years, the number of centenarians will exceed three million persons versus 182,000 persons who were older than 100 years in 2000. Moreover, family size is shrinking in many countries at the same time that relatives are geographically dispersed.
Drawing on trends in countries that include China, Japan, Spain and the United States, this best-selling author suggests that businesses and individuals will confront unprecedented challenges as relates to both economics and politics. For one thing, numerous companies jettison older employees (perhaps by offering early retirement) at the same time that having them work more years can be a societal plus (versus having younger workers pay higher taxes to fund programs for a larger and fast-growing cohort of seniors). Second, aging and globalization go hand in hand with lower cost immigrant workers representing a bigger proportion of senior caregivers. Third, if unemployment rates continue to plague youth around the world, economic pressures will disproportionately hit those who are working.
This blogger has long commented on the radically changing demographics in the United States and elsewhere. As with any crisis, innovators tend to rise to the challenge of providing solutions for profit. Already, entire industries such as travel, health care and financial services are segmenting targets by age. However, not surprisingly, those with means have the greatest appeal as potential customers. That means that those less endowed could end up fighting for a smaller sliver of available public goods, especially as nations decide how best to deal with mounting national debts by scaling back on safety net outlays.
Fishman offers that age may be less a chronological phenomenon and more a situation where one should be better categorized by his or her dependency on others. With nearly 80 million people turning 65 this year in the USA, understanding the economic and sociopolitical dimensions of aging is paramount.
Click to view a 9:05 minute video entitled "U.S. Faces 'Explosion of Senior Citizens': Will Baby Boomers Strain Economy?" (January 3, 2011). In this interview by PBS News Hour anchor Judy Woodruff, Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt (with the American Enterprise Institute) and Ted Fishman talk about runaway entitlement spending such as Medicare that must be addressed. One stated solution to the aging crisis is for people to work longer, something that is plausible, especially for those with education who can contribute to a service sector with ease. Staying healthy and saving as much as possible are two other solutions put forth by the interviewees.