Our ability to live longer, healthier and more productive lives is one of our greatest accomplishments. Here in the US, demographers predict that more than half the children born today will live to at least 100. And, according to some, the first person to live to the age of 150 has already been born.
In 2012, there were 810 million people in the world aged 60 and older. That number is projected to reach 1 billion in less than 10 years and more than double to over 2 billion by 2050. Today, Japan is the only country in the world where those aged 60 and older represent 30% or more of the population. By 2050, 62 countries will reach that milestone.
Yet, the global ageing story is about much more than demographics. As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has observed, “the social and economic implications of this phenomenon are profound, extending far beyond the individual older person and the immediate family, touching broader society and the global community in unprecedented ways.”
Here in the US, for example, the 106 million people 50 and older generate $7.6 trillion in annual economic activity. Expressed in terms of GDP, that’s larger than that of any country besides the US and China. They also account for more than half of all consumer expenditures in the US. The fastest growing age group is people 85 and older; the second fastest is people 100 and older, and the majority of them are women, also more likely to live alone.
Over 49 million people in the US live in households with three or more generations. By 2035, one out of three US households will be headed by someone aged 65 or older, increasing the need for affordable, accessible housing.
Many people will spend more time and resources caring for their ageing parents than they did raising their own children. And, the projected number of unpaid caregivers is not nearly enough to keep pace with the increased demand.
And businesses and organisations are struggling to find ways of getting the most out of a workforce that may consist of up to five generations of workers, but most certainly has a larger proportion of older workers.
As countries and societies throughout the world work to adapt their economies and societies to these new realities, one thing is clear: many countries’ cultures, institutions, social supports and infrastructures have not kept up with the advancements that science, technology and innovation have made possible in the way we age.
In fact, if you type “Global Ageing” into Google, the first phrase Google will suggest you are looking for is “Global Ageing Crisis.” Is global ageing a crisis? Not if we change the conversation and get rid of the outdated beliefs and stereotypes about ageing, and spark new solutions so that more of us can choose how we want to live as we age–what I like to call “Disrupt Ageing”.
Disrupt ageing is not just about re-imagining old age: it’s about designing our lives and creating social institutions, public policies and personal behaviours that support people throughout their lives. We’re beginning to see this happen throughout the world. Entrepreneurs and innovators are creating an incredible array of products and services targeted to older people. Advances in research and technology are driving innovation in virtually every field that affects our ability to live well as we age.
But innovation is not just developing new products and services; it’s also about how products are designed, how services are delivered, and how policies are implemented.
We recently teamed with FP Analytics to take an in-depth look at how 12 countries* are adapting their economies and societies to an ageing population. We focused on policy innovations in four key areas: community social infrastructure, productive opportunity, healthcare and wellness, and technological engagement. The resulting Aging Readiness and Competitiveness (ARC) Report, published in 2017, identified six big ideas that include innovative programmes to promote volunteerism and entrepreneurship, lifelong learning in financial and technological literacy, support for caregivers and intergenerational community building.
In Israel for example the “Here We Live” programme is connecting older adults and students in a novel housing model that addresses the needs of both generations by matching college students with older adults living independently with a spare bedroom.
China’s “Silver Age Action Initiative” is a volunteer programme that taps into the knowledge and experience of retired professionals to advance the economic and social development of the western and less-developed regions of the country.
In Brazil, the “Financial Education to Older Adults” programme offers financial education content tailored to older adults whose financial literacy has not kept pace with the rapid expansion of credit and access to finance in Brazil, to help them improve their quality of life through better financial management.
In Canada, the Nova Scotia Community Access Program (NSCAP) is building on the Canadian government’s commitment of recognising Internet access as a fundamental right with a new initiative—called “Connecting Older Adults with Mobile Technology”—to ensure that older adults have the skills and confidence necessary to effectively use mobile technologies such as tablets, mobile phones, Skype, Microsoft Office, and Facebook.
Turkey’s “Caregiver Service Program,” subsidises caregiving for low-income older adults and their families. Its innovative design compensates family members for the financial loss associated with leaving a job to care for a relative, and creates an incentive for women to enter the labour force as external caregivers.
The UK’s “New Enterprise Allowance” programme helps unemployed, low-income, or disabled individuals start their own business. The programme matches eligible applicants with a business mentor who helps them create a business plan. Once the plan is approved, they have access to continued mentoring for six months, a tax-free weekly allowance for up to 26 weeks, and loans for start-up costs.
These innovations in ageing demonstrate that we can and must adapt to our ageing societies, and that when we do, all members of society benefit. As policymakers and advocates, we can all be innovators in ageing—change agents who recognise that the concept of aging is constantly evolving. The challenge for all of us is to take advantage of the information, the research and the knowledge we have about living and ageing well to create public policies and programmes that help our citizens live well every day and empower them to choose how they live as they age.
* The countries are the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Korea, China, Germany, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel, and South Africa.
Jenkins, Jo Ann (2016), Disrupt Aging, PublicAffairs Books, New York
Love, Patrick (ed.) (2015), Ageing: Debate the Issues, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264242654-en
OECD (2016), Japan: Boosting Growth and Well-being in an Ageing Society, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264256507-en
OECD (2015), Ageing in Cities, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264231160-en
Jo Ann Jenkins
© OECD Yearbook 2017