Related to my recent blogs and newsletter articles regarding employee engagement and the changing demographic of the American workforce, there was an interesting study published this past October in the medical journal The Lancet. The study, entitled "Ageing Populations: The Challenges Ahead" contends that if the pace of increase in life expectancy in developed countries over the past two centuries continues through the 21st century, most babies born since 2000 in countries like the U.S. will celebrate their 100th birthdays.
I think this is incredible! Think of the ramifications to the way that Americans live, work, and age if most were living to 100. It is important to note that currently there are only about 100,000 Americans who are at least 100 years of age.
The spring edition of the Wharton Magazine (published for alumni by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) summarized The Lancet Study and this "demographic revolution" as it relates to potential impacts on the American workforce. Following are some of the highlights from that summary:
The Trends and Implications:
Trend: Research suggests that people are living longer without a concurrent increase in functional limitations and disability.
Implication: Individuals over the coming decades may routinely expect to work well into their 70s and 80s.
Trend: People work more years of their lives, but also likely for fewer hours per week.
Implication: The workplace will need to become friendlier and more accepting of older workers by, for example, accommodating their desire to work out of, or near, their homes. Also, if more elderly people choose to work part-time, then more opportunities for part-time work might open up for young people as well.
Trend: It’s already easier to work at a distance, easier to telecommute.
Implication: It will be increasingly easier for people to enjoy flexibility in their work conditions and environment.
Trend: Our population is aging, so older workers will be increasingly supervised by younger managers.
Implication: Employers will need to embrace older workers and incorporate more flexibility with respect to schedules, less supervision, and more empowerment. Young people will also need to learn to manage somebody who has more experience than they do.
Trend: Several studies have shown that in some environments, younger people try to force older people out. (This has to change.)
Implication: Huge losses in the collective knowledge and experience of our workforce.
Trend: Improvements in health and functioning along with shifting of employment from jobs that need strength to jobs needing knowledge.
Implication: A rising proportion of people in their 60s and 70s are capable of contributing to the economy.
Trend: The 20th century was "a century of redistribution of income and the 21st century could be a century of redistribution of work."
Implication: Employment could spread more evenly across populations and over the ages of life, and individuals could combine work, education, leisure and child-rearing in varying amounts at different ages.
Trend: The need to finance longer life spans will increase.
Implication: We will have to train smarter, work longer, and save more for our own retirement.
Trend: People are living longer and in better health, and are choosing to work later in life.
Implication: Baby boomers expect to have more complex careers in the second half of their lives. Many of them think they will continue to work in some capacity…perhaps not in the same job, but consulting, possibly starting their own business, and doing more volunteer projects.
It’s clearly the case that America’s aging population will drive changes in both the employment landscape and people’s lifestyle. The exact outcomes are not known, but the sooner employers and employees can make the necessary adjustments, the better opportunity there is for us to thrive in this "demographic revolution."