FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

How Will an Aging Population Affect the Future?

Ask almost any futurist what he or she thinks will be the most important trend over the next 50 years, and he or she will likely tell you about the aging of the world's population. Falling birthrates worldwide, combined with greater longevity, means that the median age of humans is steadily becoming older.

The WorldChanging blog cites a Stanford Magazine article about the consequences of an aging world. Among the takeaways from the article are:

  • The traditional retirement age of 65 will soon become a thing of the past. It made sense back when the average life expectancy was 61 and most work involved hard, physical labor. But in an office environment, many workers can keep working well into their 70s and 80s.
  • Longer life must go hand-in-hand with better health; no one wants to see an elderly population become an infirm population. Quality-of-life issues must become the focus of future healthcare research.
  • In the U.S., aging baby boomers will continue to impact the culture, changing our long-held assumptions of what it means to be old. However, because the elderly perceive time differently than younger people (a long history behind them and not much longer to go), their priorities are different.
  • The large numbers of the elderly may make it possible for more young people to have mentors.
  • The elderly have a more nuanced view of the world, having gained the ability to appreciate differences of opinion.
The aging world population is potentially one of the most important long-term trends, with its ramifications affecting all levels of society. How will longevity affect families? Will it become typical for people--particularly men--to go through several marriages and have more than one family? The WorldChanging blog also raises the specter of assisted suicide, which in itself involved a series of complex controversies.

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