An Ageing Population in All Its Glory
Most Western countries are facing long-term problems because of a greying population. But so, too, are Japan and South Korea, to name just two. Canada and the U.S. are among the more fortunate because of immigration and the higher birth rates of immigrants. About 80% of Canada’s population increase has been due to immigration, in contrast to the U.S. where it’s been the result largely of natural increase.
The point is, steadily ageing populations in the long-term present huge problems to national governments. For example, in 2025 the first Baby Boomers will reach age 80, with the youngest being in their early sixties. Canada’s low fertility rate will mean that lower numbers of youth (relative to the past) will replace Boomers in the labor market. Indeed, by 2025 it will be only immigration that will stop a decline in the country’s population.
Healthcare and how it’s funded is the most frequently mentioned issue in the news. As people age, the ratio of those working who pay into the tax system to those dependent (children and seniors) starts to get squeezed. The bad news is that as we get into our senior years, as our knees and tickers give out, we start placing an inordinate strain on the healthcare and, indirectly, the taxation system. Who’s going to pay the escalating healthcare bill?
Compounding this ugly scene is a crappy labor market for youth and Generation Y. On top of this is an increasingly difficult situation for older workers (50-plus), whose wages are getting squeezed and whose adaptability to new technologies often presents challenges. Furthermore, the job scene–or lack thereof–is pushing more young people to either remain at home with mom and dad or to move back home in an effort to keep their economic heads above water.
It’s not a pretty situation, and unfortunately an ageing population can’t be reversed. It is what it is. And it’s entirely predictable, the one time that economists can hold their heads up high.
Human capital development (fancy economist speak for education and skills training) is a nation’s most valuable asset. We’ve heard the “people are our most valuable asset” mantra for years in organizations. Those organizations that need to espouse this are least likely to actually practice it.
We can’t change the fact that our population is getting older, with the associated problems. However, what is within our control, both at the national political level and at the organization level, is how we respond to the challenge. Rather than tolerating the barriers that have become erected between the generations, especially the wall that has sealed Baby Boomers unto themselves, much more work needs to be done to build bridges based on respect and understanding across Generations X and Y, Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation (67 to 82) and the Greatest Generation (82 plus).
For more on this topic, click on this link to read my e-book Leadership and the Inter-Generational Divide, 2nd Edition. And for more on the challenges of an ageing population and its effects on organization, read my e-book Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition.
What leaders are called upon to do in a chaotic world is to shape their organizations through concepts, not through elaborate rules or structures.
– Margaret Wheatley
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