A Global March Toward an Aging Workforce

By Nancy M. Davis Jul 5, 2012
Author Ted Fishman speaks at the SHRM 2012 Annual Conference, during a Masters Series session. Photo by Steven E. Purcell

Every nation faces an aging workforce as the proportion of their population over age 60 inevitably climbs, said Ted C. Fishman, author of Shock of Gray (Scribner, 2010), during a June 27, 2012, Masters Series session at the Society for Human Resource Management 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition.

Fishman subtitled his boo​k The Aging of the World's Population and How it Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation. It highlights “How big global trends begin locally. Workforce issues are one of the most powerful lenses you can see the world with,” he said.

“How does life change for us because the world is getting older?” he asked.

“This is an unprecedented moment in the history of mankind. When people talk about age, they tend to focus on the difficulty of the change—with pensions in crisis, budgets in crisis, health care in crisis,” he said. “This is a prime example of focusing on the wrong things. An older world is very much a better world,” he pointed out. Humankind has “always wanted to live longer. Now we are in the first minute when we are living longer. There is no treasure that compares to a longer life.

“We see this momentous change in everything you look at: In how you see yourself, your family, the neighborhood where you live, the firms where you work, and how you interact with the changes in your state and country. It is an all-pervasive change that affects every walk of life,” Fishman explained.

How do such changes affect the economy?

  • The median global age is currently 29, with half the world’s population older and half younger. By 2050 that median will reach 35.
  • Now, more people are above age 60 than under age 17. “This has never happened before. Usually, the bulk of the world’s population was younger because families were large and people died sooner. Even in underdeveloped countries, people are living longer,” he said. When most Americans were asked how long they expected to live, they underestimated life span by seven years, he said.
  • There are fewer young people in the global population. Shares of populations ages 18 to 64 are dropping in many countries. Other demographics contribute to this trend. For example, single-parent families represent 49 percent of all children born in the United States. And, the family sizes of all U.S. ethnic groups are declining—not just those of immigrants. For women, “the fertility window closes because the modern worker is investing in her career,” he said. “It’s hard to have more than two children. Go anywhere in the world; family size today is half what it was a generation ago.
  • “One of the ironies of the aging world is not that it is a shrinking world but that it is a trajectory to an ever-shrinking world,” and nearly every country is on this trajectory.

Fishman lauded HR professionals who use best practices to encourage employees to stay on the job longer and in providing accommodations for individuals who need them to stay employed.

Nancy M. Davis is editor of HR Magazine.


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