Youth may be poised to inherit the future, but now ageing populations are defining it.
In 2018, for the first time in history, those aged 65 or older outnumbered children younger than five globally. And the number of people aged 80 years or older is projected to triple, from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050.
The population aged 65 and older is growing faster than all other age groups, especially as the global birth rate has been plummeting since the second half of the 20th Century. According to the World Health Organization, fertility rates in every region except Africa are near or below what’s considered the ‘replacement rate’ – the level needed to keep a population stable. In most high-income countries this hovers around 2.1 children per woman.
The population isn’t just ageing, though: people are living longer and increasing their ‘healthspan’ for prolonged health, too. That means that as the population of elders increases, so grows a group of consumers, workers and innovators. In other words, they’re not simply a group that needs services from the ‘silver economy’, which is aimed solely at older and ageing people – rather, the ageing population can continue to be full-service participants in the economy at large.
“We’re now talking about a new life stage which is as long as the latter part of your adult life,” says Dr Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and author of Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market.