Decades ago, the classic French entertainer Maurice Chevalier quipped that getting older "isn't so bad when you consider the alternative." It's clever, and at one time it made pretty good sense. But the times, as they say, are a-changing. Four years into the so-called "baby boomer bulge" -- when the world's largest population segment passes into traditional retirement age -- getting older is no longer a fate just better than death. It's not a time of health, activity and contribution.
In 2014, all indicators suggest that "seniors" are no longer destined for lives of disability and dependency. Now, even if we are supposed to be retired according to antiquated and arbitrary policies, we continue to contribute at the highest levels of business, culture, government, philanthropy and elsewhere. And these new roles are making old ideas of aging -- like that captured in Chevalier's quip -- increasingly obsolete.
Here are five of the most important developments to look for in 2014:
The "senior market" will continue to explode. Numerous sectors are realizing the commercial opportunities brought by longer lives and the "boomer bulge." The fashion industry gets it; the travel industry is on board; and leaders in consumer goods have certainly recognized that it's worth prioritizing and competing for the over-60 segment, which will reach one billion in a few short years. In Asia, investment specialists recognize aging as a global phenomenon of equal importance as urbanization and the digital revolution. Now, given this market expansion, we can expect to see winning companies start to think differently about talent. Keeping people working into their sixties, seventies and even eighties will be understood as competitive advantage. The World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Aging is creating a set of principles to guide business to operate differently, and 2014 will see the roll-out of "silver economies" across the globe from Europe and Japan to South Korea and in America.
Older adults will be further recognized not as fiscal liabilities but as economic assets. The over-60 demographic is one of the world's greatest sources of economic growth, and the world's leading organizations are starting to get message out. The G8 has dedicated itself to this end by leading a global effort to beat Alzheimer's. In 2014, both the OECD and APEC are placing population aging prominently on their agendas, and leadership by China and Japan will be central. For the U.S., cooperation with these two countries will be huge. Japan will soon sell more adult diapers than baby diapers, and China's over-60 population will continue to swell inexorably, soon outnumbering the entire population of the European Union. The U.S. can look to two new Ambassadors, Caroline Kennedy and Senator Max Baucus to fashion aging and economic policies with Beijing and Tokyo.
Old policies will fade behind new demographic realities. Most of the concepts that shape our understanding of aging -- retirement, pensions, even the Baby Boomer idea itself -- are built upon Otto von Bismarck's 19th century program. It was simple for Bismarck -- and FDR later on -- to honor 65 as the decisive age of "retirement," because most of were dead by then. Indeed, the average life span in Germany in Bismarck's day was about 47. And in FDR's time of the Great Depression, it wasn't all that much better. But in 2014, retiring in our early sixties is neither personally agreeable nor fiscally sustainable. Can you really play golf and receive a pension check for 30 years? And equally important -- if not more important -- is that decades-long drops in fertility are conspiring with longer lives to create a global society with more over 60 than under 14. In 2014, reality will continue to overcome tradition, and we'll all be better off for it.
Aging will compete as a development goal. During 2014, the global community that created the (in)famous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will have a chance to recognize their big miss. In their first effort at establishing MDGs at the turn of the century, they whiffed on aging. This year, they've got a chance to revisit the framework and incorporate aging into the post 2015-MDG Goals. Though it was head-scratching to see them miss it a few years ago, it will be stunning if they do so again. Standard & Poor's has made it clear with their claim that "no other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances and national policies as the irreversible rate at which the world's population is growing older." Now, it's time for the MDG crowd to listen.
The WHO's Age-Friendly Cities Network will expand. Across the globe, aging and urbanization will merge to transform how we live in our 21st century. In the process, we will continue to have the opportunity to re-invent how older adults can live healthy, active lives in our cities. Top priorities will include finding solutions for well-recognized health issues like Alzheimer's and other non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But other pressing priorities include lesser known but vitally critical health impairments like skin, vision, and muscular skeletal deterioration. The role of the city in these health quests is becoming increasingly important, and the WHO's Age-Friendly Cities initiative is driving the development. 2013 saw the global network expand significantly, and 2014 should see even greater growth.
So let's in 2014, the "miracle of longevity" is upon us, and the opportunities are endless. It's time to craft the right policies to capture the social and economic benefits of an aging population.
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