Society Insights

The future of aging

The trend

The population is aging: it’s been a well-known global phenomenon for years now, a complex demographic process that touches on social, cultural, economic, and psychological aspects. An older population, combined with a declining birth rate, which we can find in various corners of the globe, call for public policy intervention to plan the proper use of economic resources, which will need to be allocated more and more for services and support networks for elders.

The average life span is growing longer, and thanks to advances in science and technology, we will be able to live better longer. But what will the repercussions be on a social level and in healthcare policies? What level of independence and autonomy will the older population enjoy? How will they be able to access healthcare? And what level of assistance can be guaranteed for this generation? Will they accept the help of technology, or care robots?

Along with these questions, there is another consideration: beyond the consequences in the field of social and healthcare policy and technological projects that can support active aging, older consumers will increasingly become the primary target of companies in many sectors. In fact, in monetary terms, according to some estimates, by 2025 the value generated by the silver economy (all economic activities targeting over-65s) will hit €5.7 trillion in Europe alone: representing nearly one-third of the EU’s GDP.

A recent, in-depth Ipsos study, run on a panel of over 1,000 US adults from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds, shines a light on the future of aging and its ripple effect on the economy, society, politics and health.

Some takeaways

The Ipsos report entitled What The Future: Aging focuses on six different areas where aging will have the biggest impact in the coming years: healthcare, technology, demographics, housing, consumer goods, and finances.

The shrinking healthcare workforce will have direct consequences on the family structure and the relationships between parents and children. In fact, 89% of interviewees expect to become caregivers for an elder member of their family. This statistic reveals a critical challenge in terms of social equity: beyond the tremendous effort that public institutions will have to make to support the people who need in-home care, companies will also need to guarantee more flexibility for their employees who are caring for their elderly parents.

From virtual voice assistants to elder care robots to wearable devices, new technologies are gradually becoming more and more widespread in the healthcare sector. They may serve to bridge the intergenerational gap, and allow more young people to work while they monitor the health of their elder relatives, offering them daily assistance at a stage in life that can often be quite lonely. But what emerges from the report is that most interviewees (58%) don’t trust in these devices, and that they prefer forms in-person assistance, even if it costs more.

Aging will also have major repercussions on the building sector and housing. The survey shows that 66% of interviewees said they had moved to another house or another city for reasons relating to age (their own or their parents’); nearly 40% say they moved into a house with a layout that’s a better fit for the needs of an elder parent. Meeting the needs of elders may mean retrofitting existing houses to accommodate mobility devices by making structural modifications on doors and hallways on one hand; on the other, there will also be a need for wide-ranging living solutions such as accessory dwelling units (ADUs), retirement homes and assisted living facilities. But this perspective contrasts with what 81% of interviewees said: that they’d rather “age in place” and continue living in their own homes.

Aging inevitably impacts buying experiences as well, especially for online purchases. So it is equally inevitable that companies rethink their websites interfaces for an older audience, as well as their in-store digital touchpoints. The report shows that satisfaction with the online purchasing experience declines as age increases, never earning a passing grade from interviewees who are over 55. (On a scale from 1 to 10 the average score is 4.7.)

Financial independence is another area affected by aging. Case in point: a total of 42% of interviewees said they can’t afford to retire comfortably. This means that banks and credit institutions will have to cater to their elder customers to meet their needs – for example, cash to cover their considerable day-to-day expenses. By the same token, people also have to start paying into supplemental retirement schemes long before they need them.

The future of aging