business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times reports that "by 2050, people age 65 and older will make up nearly 40 percent of the population in some parts of East Asia and Europe. That’s almost twice the share of older adults in Florida, America’s retirement capital. Extraordinary numbers of retirees will be dependent on a shrinking number of working-age people to support them.

"In all of recorded history, no country has ever been as old as these nations are expected to get.

"As a result, experts predict, things many wealthier countries take for granted — like pensions, retirement ages and strict immigration policies — will need overhauls to be sustainable. And today’s wealthier countries will almost inevitably make up a smaller share of global G.D.P., economists say.

"This is a sea change for Europe, the United States, China and other top economies, which have had some of the most working-age people in the world, adjusted for their populations. Their large work forces have helped to drive their economic growth.

"Those countries are already aging off the list. Soon, the best-balanced work forces will mostly be in South and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East, according to U.N. projections. The shift could reshape economic growth and geopolitical power balances, experts say."

The story goes on:

"In many respects, the aging of the world is a triumph of development. People are living longer, healthier lives and having fewer children as they get richer.

"The opportunity for many poorer countries is enormous. When birth rates fall, countries can reap a 'demographic dividend,' when a growing share of workers and few dependents fuel economic growth. Adults with smaller families have more free time for education and investing in their children. More women tend to enter the work force, compounding the economic boost."

Of course, "Demography isn’t destiny, and the dividend isn’t automatic. Without jobs, having a lot of working-age people can drive instability rather than growth. And even as they age, rich countries will enjoy economic advantages and a high standard of living for a long time."

You can read the entire piece here.

KC's View:

I know this story is a little outside the usual MNB lane, but I thought it was worth bringing your attention to for a couple of reasons.

First, I figured that we all don't have enough to worry about.  Might as well add something else to the list.

But more importantly, I think this story points to the ultimate truth - that the things we all thought we could count on being true almost always are going to change, and we have to be prepared for that.  Sometimes the changes have to do with age, and sometimes gender and sometimes ethnicity and race.  The subjugated of the past can, and often will, become the dominators and determinators, of the future.

Things always change, and these changes affect economic growth, cultural evolution and political governance - and businesses need to think about these macro trends even as they make micro decisions about short-term and long-term futures.