‘80 is the new 60’
For years, it has been fairly common to hear the observation that “60 is the new 40,” referring to how 60-year-olds are now much healthier and more active than they were one or two generations ago. In a recent gathering with fellow senior-agers, someone remarked — jokingly, I assume — that the United Nations will soon redefine “youth” to extend to age 60, while “senior age” will begin at age 80. “Middle-aged” will now refer to those who are 60-80, while “elderly” will henceforth supposedly refer to those 90 years old and above.
Maybe all that is still a bit of a stretch, but there’s indeed some sense in significantly redefining the threshold ages for being classified as “senior” and “elderly.” I’ve written before of the observation that the new generation of senior citizens are much more numerous, more healthy, more educated, more wealthy, and more active. In their 2009 article “Demographic Challenge,” Ilona Kickbusch and Prisca Boxler wrote: “Owing to the high percentage of the population it represents, this group is challenging notions of retirement and, even more, the perception of ‘being old’… With improved health, education and economic security, this generation is able to continue to enjoy traveling, renovate their houses and buy luxury cars … Being above 60 no longer means looking, behaving and acting in the image of a grandparent of yesteryears. They run marathons, go bungee jumping, go out in the evening, work as volunteers—in short, they are visible and they are active.” Indeed, a friend recently attested that he has an 82-year-old uncle who still ran a marathon.
More and more people are living beyond 80 years, which has made senior citizens much more prominent in the population of the world more than in any period of human history. The fastest-growing population segment in the developed world is in fact over 80 years old, and because women tend to outlive men, women dominate this age group at a ratio of 2 to 1. The United Nations projects that the number of people aged 60 and above would have doubled from around 600 million in 2000 to 1.2 billion in 2025, rising further to 2 billion by 2050.
There are already serious proposals elsewhere to redefine the age of the “elderly” from 65 to 75 years. A primary motivation for this has been the ballooning costs of social security, especially in aging societies where retirees are making up a more dominant part of the population. While in the past, the social security expenses of one retiree in Japan used to be supported by 10 working-age people, now only 2.1 workers support the costs of one retiree. Last year, the Japanese government reportedly began requiring elderly people with certain levels of income to shoulder more of their own medical and nursing-care costs.
Abolition of mandatory retirement has been another way that aging economies facing not only social security pressures but also tight labor markets are dealing with the issue. The traditional rationale for mandatory retirement has been the argument that certain occupations are either too dangerous (such as in the military) or require high and up-to-date levels of physical and mental skill (airline pilots, physicians). The premise is that a worker’s productivity declines significantly after age 65, and mandatory retirement is the employer’s way to avoid reduced productivity. But as already indicated, such generalizations no longer hold in the contemporary world, and many now even view mandatory retirement as a form of age discrimination. For this reason, mandatory retirement has been unlawful in the United States since 1986, when the US Congress amended the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Apart from retirement and social security issues, the new elderly are reshaping the nature of consumer demands, and today’s producers and service providers would do well to take note. The average age of a Porsche buyer is now reportedly 58, the biggest buyers of electric guitars in Japan are over 60, and retired seniors are a brisk market for world travel. As for me, I will enjoy the perks of my senior-citizen card while they last. It may not be too long before they shift the minimum age to 75, or even 80.
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