The one thing we can say with confidence about the future of ageing is that it will be quite different to society’s previous experiences.
Unfortunately, we are still operating as if the norms of the last 50 years were still relevant. Many in our society still consider retirement happens around the age of 60 – 65 and its normal to finish a university or technical college course in our late teens – early twenties and never go back. These are just two examples of norms that have now passed their “use by” date.
One of the major challenges that most developed economies will have to adapt to in the future is the fact that the birth rate has fallen significantly and will continue to stay low, while it will become “normal” for older people to be around in their 80s and 90s and living to 100 will cease to be unusual.
So, what are the changes we will see?
- Health. If we are going to live longer lives it will be essential that medical science and our own efforts combine to maximise our chances of being reasonably fit and healthy for many of the extra years that future generations can expect to live. Medical science is already working hard to find cures and better treatments for debilitating diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinsons and various cancers.
- Working longer. We are already experiencing the early years of the trend towards working longer. Today it’s common for people to retire from their career and instead of going into full time retirement; they take up another full or part time job, become a volunteer, or even start a new business. In the future, most developed economies will struggle to operate efficiently if there are fewer productive young workers while at the same time, the majority of over 60s are consumers who are not contributing to the economy. Therefore, it will be common for more older people to be productive workers in the economies of the future. Obviously, they won’t be doing hard, physical labor.
The other factor driving this trend is that if people are going to live longer, they will need to earn money for a longer time to fund their years in some form of retirement.
- Education. We will also see big changes in the way education is delivered. It’s a well-used cliché that “many jobs of the future haven’t been invented yet”. Instead of people completing their education in their early 20s and rarely going back to study, we will see a trend towards people going back to university or tech in their 40s, 50s and 60s to learn how to work in an entirely new industry.
While most of the developments I’ve mentioned are unlikely to impact on current retirees or people approaching their retirement, it’s likely that by the time their children are in their 60s, this new world will be arriving.