How Baby Boomer Retirement Will Change the World

Author explains how society will change as the population ages.

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Citizens of developed countries are living longer than ever before. But these bonus years are beginning to create challenges for seniors aiming to fund decades of retirement and the government agencies, employers, and family members trying to support an aging population. U.S. News asked Ted Fishman, author of Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World's Population and How it Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation, what an aging population could mean for your retirement. Excerpts:

[See 10 Key Retirement Ages to Plan For.]

What is going to change as the baby boomers begin to retire in large numbers? They probably won’t be retiring in the numbers they expect to. They will be working longer and competing with one another for work. There is such a fear that people will outlive their money. If you’re employed and you are an older person, you can roll into another job pretty successfully, and people like that you have been tested by the workforce. If you are unemployed and reentering the workforce, then employers almost always prefer younger workers.

Is retirement going to be significantly different for the baby boomers than it was for previous generations? Right now we have their view of the world that the boomers changed the world forever and they are going to reinvent retirement. As the boomers age past 65 up toward 75 and 80, they will become a very diverse group in terms of their abilities and their dependency and their participation in the workforce. Because they are such a big group, the sheer number of people who are dependents is going to go way up. This will change the rest of the nation’s views toward the boomers. The boomers will be the group that has this huge number of dependent people.

[See The Baby Boomers Turn 65.]

Do Americans view older people differently than other cultures? We have a view of America as a youthful place. We think of ourselves as a young county. We market to young people. In Japan, older people are afforded all kinds of social respect and privilege. In China, the group that is 50 and older has been largely left out of the economic miracle.

Why does population aging accelerate globalization? There’s a kind of competition for youthful labor. Global employers and global producers are very interested in shedding the costs of the world’s highest paid and oldest workplaces. China has sent 150 million young people off of its farms and into its cities that have been paid for by the rest of the developed world. You can’t go into a workplace anywhere in the U.S. and find places where people are only under 25, but in China you can. The world is shopping everywhere it can for younger workers.

[See 11 Retirement Resolutions for 2011.]

Would you advise job seekers to go into a business that caters to an aging population? There are economic opportunities for businesses that cater to older people. It’s not just about caring for older people who are hobbled. Businesses are going to serve a population that is focused on staying healthy and vital. Some of the big business opportunities that are coming include adjusting homes so that the design of everything in your home is suitable for people of all ages, but doesn’t look like it is made for an older person. And one of the really giant areas coming along is continuing education.