The Grey Revolution is a two-pronged revolution. From the 19th century onwards our longevity doubled. At the same time, less and less children are born. The greying and greening of society coincide.
Like most revolutions this ‘grey’ one has a tremendous impact on societies. Despite popular views, these impacts are predominantly positive. This needs some explaining.
First some statistics
According to the United Nations (UN) in 2019 the population of people 65 and over is worldwide 9%. In 2050 this will be 16%. However, there are huge differences between countries. For instance, in Spain the amount of people of 65 and over is already 19%, and in Japan even 25%.
For Japan the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in the peak year, 2055, this percentage will have risen to 42%. Spain is second with 40%.
But there are more striking differences. In 2013 of the people in Japan of 65 and over 27.5% participated in the labor force, compared to 2.8% in France. Moreover in Spain the participation of people of 55 years and over in the labor force is only 53%. This is the lowest percentage of the countries in the developed world.
It’s obvious that in many countries as a consequence of these demographics the economy is greying. In 2025 the grey economy in the EU will contribute 32% to the GNP and 38% to employment. The higher the pensions, the higher the economic impact will be, particularly on the domestic economy.
Moreover, the silver economy develops into two directions. One offers products and services related to leisure, entertainment and active aging. The other aims at people with poorer health that require care and cure. Researchers stipulate that all economic sectors will be involved.
The Grey Revolution comes with a price
The economic opportunities presented above will only come about when the working life is expanded. This is the most important price people will have to pay. Countries such as France, Spain, and Portugal will really have to make an effort to accomplish longer working lives.
The economic benefits of the Grey Revolution will be substantial. If 75% of the people between 55 and 65 would work, as in New Zealand, the Spanish GDP would increase with at least 15%. The current protests and strikes in France demonstrate that the road to longer working lives is paved with many political difficulties.
To work is one of the basics of the Grey Revolution
No matter how important longer working lives are, more is required to accomplish the Grey Revolution. The political, social and entrepreneurial mindsets will have to change substantially. Discrimination of the elderly is a common feat in every economic sector and on every societal level.
There is one striking example of legal and political discrimination of the elderly at the workplace. That is the possibility to dismiss someone from his or hers job when reaching a certain age. This possibility has even been approved by the European Court of Justice. To achieve the full potential of the Grey Revolution this kind of legal discrimination must be undone quickly.
One of the basics of the Grey Revolution is social participation. If it comes to the elderly, people generally think of volunteering or social life in the family. But paid work is an even more important carrier of social participation.
Another important basic of the Grey Revolution is a good health. Fortunately most elderly between 65 and 75 can boast of a good health. Yet there is room for some concern. Obesity and stress are two ailments that in the medium term will jeopardize this fortune.
The elderly do not always become obese because they eat too fat, too sweet and too salty. Nor do most of them drink too much alcohol. The problem is that if you grow older, your body shrinks. Not much, but enough to make space for more subcutaneous fats. This type of obesity does hardly show on the outside.
The Grey Revolution is a collective performance
This means that a healthy but sober diet is not enough. You also need to exercise. This is something people usually forget when they’re at their job or when they volunteer. And many modern (voluntary) jobs are sedative jobs.
People sit behind a desk, behind a computer, in a conference room or in their car. There’s no sedative job where you have mandatory exercise every hour. Or where they have the means to exercise during working hours. But for an aging workforce these are essential conditions.
This is why, as stated before, a huge change of mindset is required. Not only the elderly have to change theirs, but also the employees and the politicians. The Grey Revolution is a collective performance.