"Today’s 7 billion people will enjoy more than 250 billion extra years of life on earth over what would have transpired had we been born a century ago."
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“The baby boomers are retiring and we’re in trouble.” We’ve been hearing it for years – the fear mongers and naysayers going on about the upcoming shortage of labour, the loss of experience in nearly all our industries in all our sectors. Trouble is – they’re all right. It’s true and the aging of our populations – globally – is happening and it’s happening exponentially faster than any of us are ready for.
In his book, Shock of Gray, Ted C. Fishman examines cultures around the world and the effect aging is having on their infrastructures, mortality rates and virtually every aspect of their communities. From cities and states in the US focusing their financial and social programs towards the oldest in their populations, to Spanish and Japanese immigration and mortgage incentives offered to mitigate losses of their younger population, each and every community around the world is feeling the effects of smaller families and increased life spans. In Shock of Gray, Fishman explains his research and uses statistics to help us understand what we can do about it.
The Big Idea
Age Isn't Just a Number
"Nevertheless, people who reach middle age are living longer than in the past, and the length of lives of adults keep stretching out, between one and two and a half years every decade."
Sarasota, Florida – flippantly titled “God’s Waiting Room” – is a retirement-friendly city in what has become the oldest state in the United States. “More than 3.3 million people over age sixty-five – nine out of every fifty residents – lived in the Sunshine State in 2010” (page 20), a population segment expected to rise about 115,000 people every year until 2030 at least. Sarasota has become a destination for people over 65, due in part to their focus on funding and infrastructure geared towards our older populations. “The region has become a kind of Silicon Valley for aging services, with a cluster of businesses, social services, and academic centers that create ever-new ways to serve older clients.” (page 38). In Spain, the government is creating programs to increase immigration to supplement their low fertility as women there (as around the world) are getting married later and having fewer children later in life. Japan, worried about the affects of an aging population on Tokyo’s version of Disneyland, has begun to host flower shows and a circus in order to attract its older citizens. The changes are inevitable, opening the doors to many opportunities for us younger generation.
"Philips and its competitors in the global home-health-care market benefit from an innovation boom aimed at commercializing technology suited to an aging population that craves independence at nearly any cost."
Decreased birth rates, urbanization of our populations, more women in the workforce and greater access to education and collective global experiences have all contributed to our oldest old staying older for longer. And with their higher incomes, better health and desire to work in passionate pursuits beyond retirement, there are many opportunities for us as entrepreneurs and forward-thinking business people to create services and build products that make for better living. Private long-term facilities are on the rise, as are sports leagues, continuing education programs, travel tours and arts and culture programs specifically focused on seniors. We can, and should, be changing our funding structures and budgets, focusing more effort on our changing demographics, to continue to create these types of products and services now and into the future, because while it’s our parents and grandparents in their Golden Years now, soon it’ll be us.
"It’s going to be someone’s job to care for all these people and I have a hard time seeing how society will manage."
As we get older and continue (or start!) planning our own futures, we need to keep in mind that the challenges our governments, our economies and our industries are experiencing right now will still exist. They’re very likely going to improve some of the more dire and immediate issues but new challenges will arise and less urgent situations will become more urgent. What are you doing to protect yourself and your family? How can you contribute to your community now that will help to mitigate and improve the situation for the future? It may be as simple as implementing a succession plan into your organization, or lobbying your politicians for tax structures and savings incentives. It’s a shift in our mindset, from passive trust that someone else will take care of us when we’ve reached our Golden Years to intentional activity, ensuring our own security to the best of our ability.
Shock of Gray opened my eyes to the reality of our future. The situation isn’t as dire in my community as it is elsewhere which gives me a huge opportunity to mitigate the issues and start looking at where I can make a difference now. With incredible medical advancements, increased standards of living as our careers progress and technological progressions making our lives more interesting and exciting to live, I’m looking forward to being “the oldest old” as long as we can correct some of the economic and environmental situations we’re currently facing. As Fishman says, “one of the most potent life-extending phenomena in world history has been the rise of literacy over the last century” (page 71), so keep reading, keep doing and keep spreading the word on what you’re doing and how you can help other also trying to change the world.