The aging population and growth in digital innovations are global phenomena, according to a paper from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA), and the “smart use” of one opens opportunities for the other.
“Digital technology – done right – can keep the world’s aging populations independent, active and working longer than previously possible,” according to the paper. In addition to improvements in transportation and health care, including tele-health solutions, technology can help employers create more inclusive work forces; that benefits employers by maintaining a more experienced work force, and older workers by keeping them engaged and productive for longer.
“Long-term economic growth and sustainability relies on governments, industry and individuals getting this right,” the paper noted, but social and political approaches to aging are still centered on “20th- and even 19th-century ideas.”
Successfully adopting a “digital economy,” as the paper called it, requires changes in how we approach education, work policies, financial planning and social security programs.
“It also means adopting a new outlook in which aging populations are seen as more than just beneficiaries of technology, but also as drivers of technological innovation and economic growth in their own right,” according to the paper.
The findings in the paper come from a two-day conference in September between the OECD and GCOA at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford. They found that as a result of lower fertility rates and increasing lifespans, there will be 1 billion people over age 60 by 2020. Furthermore, in OECD countries there will be more people retiring than beginning careers over the next two years.
Sarah Harper, professor of gerontology and director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, moderated a keynote at the conference, noting that “in demography, we tend to underestimate what is going to happen, while with technology we overestimate how quickly change will unfold,” according to the paper.
Key to addressing these issues is collaboration between public and private interests, including making career models and work environments more flexible. The paper pointed to the sharing economy as an example. In the United States, more than 30% of Uber drivers call themselves retired, and a 2015 PwC report said a quarter of people over 55 consider themselves part of the sharing economy, compared with 7% of Americans overall. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found 82% of independent contractors prefer their way of working over a “traditional job” with a salary and fixed hours.