Ageing Populations- Boomers, Their Walkers and Fiscal Overload
Updated July 21, 2011
David Foot, a respected demographer at the University of Toronto, has said that demographics explains two thirds of everything that occurs in society and the economy. I first heard that comment when professor Foot released his book Boom, Bust and Echo in the late nineties. Since then the demographic time bomb has loomed closer and closer. But how many people are worrying about it?
Canada has a population of 34 million people and a Baby Boom population (those born between 1948 and 1966) of about 10 million. Of the industrialized Western countries, Canada has the largest percentage of its population composed on Boomers. Consequently, the imminent tidal wave of retiring Boomers is one that should wake up corporations and governments.
Of course, there are many other countries that face huge pressures from ageing populations. China, for example, as a result of its one-child-per-family policy faces a freight train of labor market-related problems. On top of that, the country already has an imbalance of some 40 million males in excess of females (accelerated in part to the practice of female infanticide). The social costs of this imbalance are already being felt in violent suicidal attacks on children in schools.
I’ve stated before in my blog posts on global competitiveness that a nation’s number one asset is its human capital (in economist speak), or its people. When a country’s age pyramid becomes inverted, from a base of younger people to one of older people, then a rethinking of how human capital is effectively deployed across an economy becomes a critical strategic issue for governments and corporations. One element of this is how to develop and deploy knowledge transfer strategies for retiring workers, combined with leadership succession strategies.
Intertwined with the imminent the exodus of Boomers from the labor market to retirement land, if Gens X and Y have their way, is the exponential rise in healthcare costs. That Gens X and Y have had enough of we Boomers is completely understandable. We’ve buried you in corny TV sitcoms and the re-re-releases of sixties and seventies rock groups, who now struggle to access the stage in their walkers. But before you give us a final kick in the pants, is this what you really want?
Yes, many Boomers, more in America than in Canada, will have to work beyond their desired retirement dates, the result of greed and incompetence by the financial services industry. If you want an insider’s view, read Michael Lewis’ The Big Short.
But when you look at the steady exponential increase in healthcare costs due in part, but not entirely, to ageing Boomers then any intelligent Gen Xer or Yer will realize that not only do Boomers need to remain in the workforce but they also need to play a viable role in organizations. If you think that we’ll agree to being Walmart greeters, dream on.
We’re ALL in this fiscal situation together, and the only effective way to address the many inter-connected issues is to work together and collaboratively figure out solutions. And when it comes to global competitiveness issues, trust me when I say that the knowledge and wisdom acquired by Boomers over decades of working is an asset you do not want to see vaporize due to retirement and disengagement.
Share your thoughts.
Opportunities are like buses: There’s always another one coming.
– Richard Branson
Photo of Jim with some elderly folks in Saint John, New Brunswick
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