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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Older Adults Outnumber Young Children

There are more people aged 65 and over in the U.S. than under 5 for the first time ever. Here is what that could mean.

People are living longer and having fewer children in developed countries, presenting new challenges and opportunities around the globe. In fact, there will be more older adults than children in our country in less than two decades. The cause is largely twofold: the large contingent of baby boomers is graying while fertility rates have stagnated or headed downward. And the U.S. is not alone.

In Japan, more than 1 in 4 people are 65 or older and the overall population is declining. While Japan has the world’s oldest population, Western European countries, including Germany, Italy, France and Spain, are not far behind. Eastern European countries are even closer to having declining populations, with many expected to shrink in only a few short years. All world regions have fertility rates at or below replacement level, with the exception of Africa.

Why Are Populations Shrinking?

Generally, women in developed nations are having fewer babies. International migration and slightly higher fertility rates have allowed the U.S. to remain younger, but not for long. Immigration is slowing and Americans are having fewer babies. Add a longer life expectancy to the mix and you can see why the country is aging faster. 

Another factor pushing the population to skew older is the massive generation of post-war children who are aging into their 60s and beyond. The baby boomers pumped up the number of children when they were young, swelled the workforce as they entered adulthood, and are having a corollary effect on retirees as 10,000 per day turn 65. By 2030, every boomer will have crossed this age-limit Rubicon and older Americans will make up 21 percent of the population, versus 15 percent today. 

This has huge implications for both older adults and the aging industry. Social programs will be impacted as the 3.5 working adults for every person eligible for Social Security today dwindles to 2.5 working adults by 2060. Additionally, health care is bound to be affected along with the caregiving spectrum, from aging in place to assisted living and hospice. Supporting the elderly is more expensive than caring for children, and eldercare is a major worry. 

Japan Provides a Model

As the oldest society on earth, Japan’s government has had to make radical changes to accommodate its singular population. In 2000, the country’s leaders introduced extremely generous long-term care insurance to supplement its national pension plan. There is also an emphasis on cutting-edge medical technologies with the hope of slashing future health care costs while energizing a new industry. Women are being encouraged to enter or re-enter the workforce, while many adults are working into their 80s.

Businesses in Japan have looked for opportunity in the boom of older adults. One convenience chain—Lawson—began putting in a “seniors’ salon” featuring blood pressure monitors, information about local health care services and nursing centers, and on-staff social workers. There’s another special section in the store for adult diapers, wipes for bathing the elderly, and detergent that is particularly good at cleaning up urine. And staff can deliver heavy items such as water or bags of rice. 

“This is Japan’s national issue,” says Lawson spokesperson Ming Li, as he points to TV dinners made for older adults. 

Lawson’s structure has also had to change. The maximum age limit for franchisees was raised, and the company is trying out lower part-time hours with limited tasks for older workers who can only put in a couple of hours per day but still want a job.

On the caregiving front, the country has been ahead of most in organizing a private transit network to bring patients to medical appointments and implementing electronic health records. One hospital issues ID cards with digital information containing the patient’s name, medical history, allergies and illnesses. Emergency responders or doctors can quickly scan these IDs. 

Another way the country leads is with robotics. Paro the robotic seal has been proven to reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and even the pain of chemotherapy sessions. It is particularly useful to calm dementia patients, according to Takanori Shibata, chief senior research scientist at Tsukuba’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. 

The humanoid Twenty-One robot, developed at Tokyo’s Waseda University, is able to help older adults get out of bed, retrieve jars from the refrigerator and deliver trays of food. But with a $215,000 price tag, it’s not in wide use. 

Market Reflections

Worldwide, economists worry that an aging population will open the door to depressed productivity, lower labor-force participation and stagnant inflation. Indirect effects can include a reduction in home ownership. Investors worry whether the new global economy will be able to generate an adequate amount of productivity and growth to make up for the demographic trends. Still, more hopeful opinions persist.

There is “no negative relationship between population aging and slower growth of gross domestic product per capita,” according to Daron Acemoglu, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist. His research in 2017 found that rapidly aging countries have been some of the fastest growers in recent decades, likely due to a quicker adoption of technologies and automation to replace lost labor. 

Government and private institutions will have to work in tandem for optimal results over the coming years. Health care will be forced to evolve, and businesses will need to look for opportunities to cater to the booming market of older adults. And perhaps instead of a chicken in every pot, the future will see a seal in every home as the world adapts to grayer heads. 

Click below for the other articles in the January 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

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