Although Paul McCartney sang “When I’m 64” over the top of three rooty-tooty clarinets, lyrically it still sounded like a lament. It was as if that future birthday, as described by a young man to a lover, marked a dread milestone beyond which life would lose all excitement and sense of purpose.
Perhaps this was true 50 years ago, back when the Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. However, many people on the cusp of retirement today look forward to more than the “scrimp and save” contentment depicted by McCartney as consisting of digging the garden, Sunday drives and renting a summer cottage in the Isle of Wight.
The baby boomer generation has transformed almost every aspect of the modern world Statistical illusion
It is said that people are living up to 40 years longer than a century ago, but this is a statistical sleight-of-hand. In 1900, global average life expectancy, as estimated by the
WHO, was 31 years and in 2015 it was 71.4. This may seem like a dramatic improvement, but until the mid-20th century, large numbers died in infancy or early childhood. Medical breakthroughs like germ theory, antibiotics and vaccination programs, as well as public health advances in sanitation, have sent infant mortality rates (and those of pregnant women) plummeting.
Life expectancy has skyrocketed because more people now live well beyond childhood. In comparison, advances in the later years seem modest. Life expectancy at age 60 in 1967 was 15.2 years for men in the UK and 19 years for women. In 2015, it was 22 years and 24.8 years respectively, according to the
UN Population Prospects (2015 Revision). But what makes this small six-year improvement impressive is the fact that far greater multitudes than ever before now have the opportunity to win life’s longevity lottery. Where the demographic impact on society is being felt is in the absolute numbers living into a ripe old age. Ill prepared for aging
Figures surrounding population aging are astounding. According to UN forecasts, the share of the global population aged 60+ could almost double by 2050, from 12% to 21.5%. This is a worldwide trend stemming not only from improved longevity but also declining birthrates. The result is a radically altered age structure across countries that will have profound impacts on everything from health care to pensions and the economy. This is a challenge that societies, companies and individuals are only beginning to face. Health, education systems and labor markets all have to transform to deal with this new reality, yet few countries have implemented the changes necessary to ensure that a society with an aging population can remain useful and innovative.
For example, as increasing numbers of workers retire,
companies will face human-resource challenges. This will increase competition for top talent and labor costs, while the age composition of the remaining workforce will become older. By 2035, the German workforce will be smaller by more than 7 million workers – 20% of the 2012 labor force. Countries like China, Italy, Japan, the US and the UK all face similar issues, yet retirement ages – both official and actual – are only rising slowly.
Read the second part of this article next week