The global age wave is changing the composition of the world’s population. Aging has captured our attention as a powerful force of cultural change. We are all living longer than any other time in history. A dramatic increase in the number of people age 65 and older is underway. The global age wave is a celebration of longevity that is fundamentally altering our assumptions and beliefs about aging and becoming old. An aging population means that the underlying structure of society is evolving in ways we cannot fully understand.
The world is aging rapidly. The number of people aged 65 and over will double as a proportion of the global population, from 7% in 2000 to 16% in 2050. By then, there will be seniors than children (aged 0–14 years) in the population for the first time in human history. (United Nations University: Ageing Societies)
The global age wave represents society refers to a global demographic shift in which the proportion of people age 65 and older increases at a faster rate than any other generation. The global age wave is transformative in its effect; it is changing our assumptions about how to live together, challenging our beliefs about the meaning and purpose of old age, and confronting us with an opportunity to evolve our consciousness of how to live a meaningful life.
What is the Global Age Wave?
- The Global Age Wave is Unique: “Population ageing is unprecedented, without parallel in human history—and the twenty-first century will witness even more rapid ageing than did the century just past.”
- The Global Age Wave is Pervasive: “Population ageing is pervasive, a global phenomenon affecting every man, woman, and child — but countries are at very different stages of the process, and the pace of change differs substantially. Countries that started the process later will have less time to adjust.”
- The Global Age Wave is Lasting: “Population ageing is enduring: we will not return to the young populations that our ancestors knew.”
- The Effects of the Global Age Wave are Extensive: “Population ageing has profound implications for many facets of human life.”
A generation is a group of people in the same age range who share similar experiences and psychological characteristics. The identity of a generation is connected to significant historical events. In this sense, a generation is a collective personality; it is a narrative about a group of people’s assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes about how to live.
The dates used to define the beginning and end points of a generation cannot be rigidly established. Chronological start and end points are always estimates and will vary depending on the sources used. Listed below in reverse chronological order is a summary of the five generations living today in North America:
- Generation Z (1995-2005): This generation has never known the world without the Internet or mobile technology. Significant events include terrorism, school violence, global warming, and the global recession of 2008. Generation Z has been forced to grow up more quickly than other generations and may see themselves as solutions to the social and environmental problems they have inherited. They may also tend to view themselves as lifelong freelancers, rather than loyal employees.
- Other Names: New Silent Generation, Generation V (virtual), Generation C (community), iGeneration, Post-Millennials, Homeland Generation
- Reach Adulthood: 2015– 2025
- Resource: Generation Z: Characteristics
- Other Names: Generation Y, Generation @, MTV Generation, Boomerang Generation, Echo Generation, Children of Baby Boomers.
- Reach Adulthood: 2000– 2015
- Resource: Catalyst: Revealing the Millennials
- Other Names: Baby Busters
- Reach Adulthood: 1985– 2000
- Resource: Forbes: The Undetected Influence of Generation X
- Other Names: Boomers, Generation Jones (1954-1965)
- Reach Adulthood: 1966 – 1985
- Reach Retirement: 2011 – 2050
- Resource: History: Baby Boomers
- Silent Generation (1919-1945): This group was born in between two world wars, and experienced the Great Depression as children. They are also known as the Veteran Generation. In their youth, they experienced a great deal of uncertainty and instability, which had a dramatic influence on their ideas and beliefs. They value consistency and tend to dislike change. This generation is often characterized as being hard working, financially conservative, loyal to organizations, and risk averse in their approach to life.
- G.I. Generation (1900-1918): This is the generation that experienced WWII as adults. In the United States, the G.I. Generation is combined with the Silent Generation to form The Greatest Generation. The G.I. Generation is a large group of people that experienced WWII and subsequently moved on to rebuild U.S. industries in the aftermath of the war.
- (Resource: CARP: Boom and Bust for the Silent Generation)
Baby Boomers as the Leading Edge of Change
The baby boomer demographic is the leading edge of unprecedented global change. In 2011 there were approximately 9.5 million baby boomers in Canada, representing 29% of the total population.
A number of potential challenges have been identified by researchers:
- Impact of Baby Boomer Age Wave: The leading edge of the age wave started in 2011, when the oldest boomers started to turn 65 years of age. The end of the boomer age wave occurs in 2025 when the youngest boomers reach the age of retirement.
- Duration of the Boomer Age Wave: Beginning in 2011, the effects of the aging boomer generation will remain for roughly 40 to 50 years.
- Increase in Morbidity Rates: Age-related disease will become a significant economic challenge for health care systems. Some hospitals are already using an age-based decision-making model to determine priorities in providing services.
- A Contracting Workforce: An aging workforce will present unique challenges and opportunities for the economy.
- New Forms of Prejudice: Ageism is already becoming a virulent cultural toxin.
- Elder Abuse: Seniors living in poverty will become increasingly problematic.
- Bureaucratization of Aging: Institutions of aging, such as long-term care facilities, tend to position economic concerns over quality of life. They do not seem to be capable of accommodating the emerging need for holistic elderly care.
- Family Stress: The family unit will come under increasing levels of strain in providing trying to provide care for elderly parents.
- Archaic Culture Beliefs: Certain cultural assumptions, such as retirement, will need to be updated or replaced with a more inspiring vision for aging in the second half of life.
- Death as the Culmination of Life: The ability to have a good death will become increasingly important.
- The Climate of Aging: Climate change will increasingly threaten the health and wellbeing of the senior population.
A Wave of Liminality
The global age wave is generating a collective state of liminality involving significant levels of change that be cannot be fully revealed.
Increased life expectancy means that we are living longer, but it does not mean that we are living better. We lack an inspiring collective ideal for aging.
The global age wave is neither problem nor burden; it is an opportunity. The real difficulty is our confinement inside a pathological political and economic systems that are the reason the human species has become the most destructive force to inhabit the earth.
A collective vision for aging in the second half of life must generate a counterforce to virulence of our presence here. To do this, we must broaden and expand our consciousness of what it means to be alive.
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