Foresight trend report: Embracing the silver society

The world is being reshaped by demographic changes, including age. These population shifts will have implications for every part of society, but particularly for employment models.

Few minutes to read
By Britta Berge and Anne Livingstone
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Populations are ageing in most countries, and the trend is showing no signs of reversal. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the global population over 60 is expected to almost double from 12 % to 22 %. This is a global phenomenon – while Europe was the first region to experience a rapidly ageing population, most of the growth in the number of older people will come from developing countries by the middle of the century. 

Population ageing is the result of many changes worth celebrating, such as decreasing child mortality, better access to healthcare, and the decline in deaths from infectious diseases. In many countries, life expectancy has grown with economic development. While this means on one hand that a sizable portion of the population is reaching retirement age, it also means that the younger generation joining the workforce has access to better opportunities and jobs. The junction between these two trends poses a unique set of challenges, but also possibilities. 

Economic challenges 

Older people make important contributions to their families, communities and societies. However, disproportionately large populations of retired people can potentially present an economic challenge as public systems are stretched. 

Given that the number of people reaching working age is forecast to fall dramatically in coming years, many countries are facing a decrease in the “dependency ratio” (the size of the working age population relative to the retired population). This puts greater economic pressure on working age adults. 

This demographic change may call for a reimagining of the nature of work, especially with regard to training and skills, so that people may remain an active and valued part of the workforce for longer. As the healthspan of workers increases and employers better recognize the unique value older workers provide, more people will remain in the workforce longer, presenting an unprecedented economic opportunity to societies. These demographic trends are also likely to lead to changes in the management of health and social care, and the design of more “age-friendly” environments. International Standards will increasingly be required to support the development and deployment of innovations and technologies; they will include guidelines for more inclusive workplaces and novel health monitoring tools that enable older people to maintain active, fulfilling lives, as well as their contributions to society.  

Employers must be responsive to this new, multigenerational workforce. 

New generations 

While countries are grappling with ageing populations, a new generation of people are entering and reshaping the world of work. In some cases, there are as many as five generations in the workforce. And the needs and expectations are changing as old systems no longer apply.  

Young people from all regions are increasingly living, studying and working online, and are thus more connected than ever. They are generally perceived as politically engaged even before they join the workforce, with strong opinions about issues like climate change and social justice.  

As this educated, idealistic and tech-savvy new generation joins the workforce – particularly in the context of economies shaken by successive crises – they have the potential to help steer the world of work towards a better future for all. Employers must be responsive to the changing needs, preferences and habits of this new, multigenerational workforce to maximize the skills and potential of all workers.  

Standards for changing societies 

These generational trends and demographic changes represent both challenges and considerable opportunity for society as a whole. ISO’s technical committee ISO/TC 314, which is focused on ageing societies, has drawn attention to the need for new standards covering areas such as age-friendly workplaces, universal design standards, dementia-inclusive communities, social connectedness and multigenerational communities. Ultimately, it will take all generations, including young people, to drive change and innovation in the coming years, so it is key to get them involved in the standardization process now.  

Many of these areas are already under discussion, but more needs to be done to get ahead of these trends and present creative solutions to shape the world of tomorrow. After all, we are all ageing and have an interest in building the future we want to see.

About the authors

Britta Berge is the Chair of technical committee ISO/TC 314 on ageing societies.

Anne Livingstone is Australia representative of ISO/TC 314, where she leads the task group on communication.

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