The World Health Organization published a press release yesterday stating that life expectancy around the world had gone up by 5 years. This dramatic change has happened over the course of just 15 years (2000-2015) meaning that we are looking at the fastest increase since the 1960s.
Although the dramatic rise is attributed to improved methods of managing preventable and treatable diseases, there are of course significant disparities between regions and countries, with Japan having an average lifespan of 86.8 years while Sierra Leoneans can expect to live until around 50 (although very low, this has gone up significantly since 2000, when it stood at just 38 years).
While issues such as contaminated water, tobacco smoking, obesity (and more) can be pointed to as some of the factors stunting the growth of this metric, it’s also important to ask ourselves how we are preparing for both the ageing of the global population as a whole as well as the disparities between the different speeds and ways in which different regions will age.
In our last month’s BRIC-themed breakfast presentation, we commented on how the different members of the BRIC alliance experienced population growth quite differently, with projections varying quite significantly from country to country.
National populations that grow differently will inevitably age differently too. Looking at how the age dependency ratio* in different countries (see below) has changed over the last few years gives us some indication of the direction things are headed: while at wildly different levels, the age dependency ratio seems to be growing both globally and in all the major global economies.
(*the ratio of older dependents–people older than 64–to the working-age population–those ages 15-64. Data are shown as the proportion of dependents per 100 working-age population.)
Another question is exactly how we are treating older citizens and what steps are we taking to ensure a higher degree of fairness between generations. This is important not least because of the disproportionate effects of the global financial crisis on young people’s labour markets and incomes. The Intergenerational Foundation, a UK-based think tank, addresses just this: how do changing demographics (strongly driven by increasing longevity) affect expectations around what each generation is entitled to, and what policy changes need to take place in order to sustainably tackle this?
In one of the foundation’s reports, ‘The Rise of Gerontocracy’, written in collaboration with the University of Sheffield, the authors question future politicians’ ability to gain the ‘grey vote’ at a time in the future when the demographic pyramid will mean that the elderly will consistently be outvoting the young.
However as we have previously pointed out, although ageing and the sharp disparity between changing demographics in different countries need to be addressed, there are also very strong indicators that the ageing consumer is coming into their own as a fully-fledged consumer with dynamic and nuanced needs beyond old ‘grey advertising’ tropes. It’s not just that people are living longer, they are living better quality lives too.
For example, one of the insights gleaned from the latest edition of our TGF survey was that globally, around 9 in 10 over 55s agrees that leisure is either important or very important to them. Oh, and they’re spending significantly more per head than their younger counterparts across a number of markets (theatre, travel, eating out), too.
Now that we have reasonably accurate projections as to how the demographic pyramid will shift between now and a few decades from now, perhaps it is time to rethink intergenerational bonds and the way in which we design future infrastructure for a generation that is not only increasingly older, but increasingly more dynamic too.