21st March 2017

FastCompany: Our Aging Population Can Be An Economic Powerhouse–If We Let It

For truly productive intergenerational communication and collaboration to take place, our cities and communities will have to engage in some fairly comprehensive structural overhauls. When the WHO surveyed seniors across the globe, they heard a range of feedback: There aren’t enough benches in public spaces; sidewalks are cracked and narrow. One person from Halifax said, quite simply: “Cross lights are made for Olympic runners.” Urban designers need to think more about creating communities that are walkable and accessible and safe, but also attractive to the changing demography.There are two places to start: transportation and housing. WHO outlines a list of requirements for upgrading transit systems for aging populations, and includes the expected: Making timetables and arrival boards legible; adding adequate priority seating; ensuring the routes run to destinations like medical facilities and parks. But the sharing economy also presents an opportunity, says an article published by Fastcompany.com.

As for housing, It’s not enough to put people of different ages into the same living space and hope they collaborate, Living facilities also need to be integrated with systems that facilitate collaboration and meeting needs for all who live there. These types of developments, too, in conjunction with more comprehensive transportation options, will go a long way toward ensuring aging residents will be able to remain in their communities.

Keeping aging people in communities—and attracting new people of traditional retirement age (65) and above–is an economic force on par with tourism. “Longevity economy” is one of the most vital in the U.S. In the longevity economy, the Oxford Economics report says, 90% of seniors say they want to be able to remain in their own home as they age; this will require more robust and adaptable transit options, as outlined above, as well as innovative supportive housing, The report also adds that the longevity economy also presents a business opportunity for the development of “aging-in-place” technology.

Yet it’s not just spending power that should be a motive for keeping elderly people in communities and active in the economy. Also. seniors can pursue business ventures or remain part of the active workforce.

With more and more people hitting what was once considered “retirement age,” it’s impractical for cities and communities to count on young people alone to act as economic drivers. Welcoming more older people into the workforce will not detract from the number of jobs available to younger workers. Rather, recent cross-national studies have shown that higher rates of employed elderly people generally denote strong economic circumstances–which correspond with more jobs for younger workers.

Diversity in the workplace is crucial: It creates a more inclusive environment for a wide variety of talent, and it has positive ramifications for businesses’ bottom line. But diversity in business is generally talked about in terms of race, gender, and sexuality. We have to begin to talk about aging being a part of the diversity matrix.

Companies like BMW are already taking this approach: In 2007, the German manufacturer realized that over the next 10 years, the average age of its workforce would increase from 39 to 47. Instead of panicking, BMW decided to adjust and figure out how to best incorporate older workers into all aspects of production. The company chose one production line to model what they called the “2017 project”–a workforce that accurately reflected demographics for that year. Though younger workers on the line initially feared the influx of elderly workers would lower their productivity, the 70 management tweaks that BMW made–from introducing part-time work to providing workers with shoes designed to reduce the pains of standing–which amounted to a €20,000 investment, brought about a 7% increase in productivity. Contrary to the younger workers’ concerns, integrating an older workforce benefited all. 

However, it’s impossible to discuss the economics of welcoming older people into the workforce without also asking what happens when they leave it.

Read the article.


Members of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic