Demographic winds don’t rustle the global systems frequently, but every once in a while, a phenomenon is strong enough to rattle social structures. Be it the world wars that severely imbalanced the global demographics, or the famines that directly affect a certain section of the population, the world is often reminded of Auguste Comte’s words – “Demography is Destiny”. This reminds us that the youth of a civilisation is often the bottleneck for its progress. In the modern world, if there is one thing that can prove this statement completely true, is the Silver Tsunami, and if there has to be one resistance to the objectivity of this quote, it has to be Longevity Sciences.
Silver Tsunami is an economic term that metaphorizes a ‘demographic apocalypse’ we might endure in the coming decades, when the number of ‘old’ (retired) people living in an economy, outnumber the number of young (productive) people. It is not an entirely pleasant metaphor as it severely jeopardizes the value of older generations and ageism. However, we cannot deny the fact that it brings with it many socio-economic implications.
What is the major driving force for the Silver Tsunami?
Silver Tsunami is just like any other demographic wind which has taken its time to finally threaten us with its inevitability. The major driving forces behind this phenomenon have been two important metrics:
- Increased Longevity:
If we look at the past 6 decades, we will see a trend that will give us a sense of pride in terms of innovation in healthcare and medical sciences. It is on the back and shoulders of these two departments that we have actually seen a constant rise in average life expectancies and longevity of individuals. In India alone, the average life expectancy of an individual has come from 41 (in the 1960s) to 70 (in 2021), the curve is even steeper in developed countries.
If we consider the vitality of an individual to perform tasks that can generate economic value, the scenario changes. Average productivity falls as individuals grow older, eventually leading to becoming dependent on the working population, after retirement. When the equation of working force to the retired force, is skewed unreasonably, there is a higher burden on the young population and the overall national economy, to support this retired, older generation. Not just that, individuals after crossing a certain age become more vulnerable to health conditions and diseases, putting the healthcare system also under pressure.
- Falling Fertility Rates
On the other end of the spectrum is the declining fertility rate, which only adds to the pace of population ageing. The fertility rate which is the single most source of contribution to the youthful workforce in a population has shown a completely opposite trend. Between 1960 to 2021, the fertility rate has declined from almost 6 children born per fertile woman, to 2 children born per fertile woman.
When we look at this trend from a demographic perspective, we can conclude that the rate at which people are entering the retirement stage will exponentially outpace the rate at which individuals enter the workforce. The seesaw is evidently leaning towards the onset of the Silver Tsunami, in fact, it has already been done in countries like Japan.
What are the implications of the Silver Tsunami?
A rapidly ageing population brings with it a definite set of economic, health, and structural perils, as:
- Increased healthcare burden is given the enhanced vulnerability and health concerns that need attention and treatment, eventually increasing the healthcare burden on the nation.
- Shift in business assets, as more old people enter the retirement stage and avail pensions, while their contribution is nil, adding more burden on the economy.
- This leads to lower interests and returns on investments for the working population, as a large chunk of their contribution to the economy is utilized in pensions and healthcare support for the old.
Although currently, India enjoys an average age of 28 years, it’s time we brace ourselves for the upcoming Silver Tsunami, as it is soon set to hit India. We must learn from countries like Japan and the USA, who are already dealing with the impact.
Progress in the Science of Longevity: A ray of hope
Longevity Sciences is one of the most sought research science, and one to be in the spotlight in the coming years. Longevity is focused on keeping people ‘youthful’ and ‘healthy’ for the longest period of their lifetime, with a special focus on their vitality. If Longevity research can add even 3-5 years of vitality in an individual, such that the average retirement age of an individual can be increased from 60 to say 65 yrs., it could relieve a lot of economic and health burdens that would otherwise be caused by the Silver Tsunami.
We have a lot of living examples of very old, senior people who are still contributing to the economy by providing value through their work. If the science of slowing down ageing and healthy longevity can assist this process, we can definitely counter the perils of this phenomenon. Every country that has experienced the initial effects of the Silver Tsunami has turned to longevity study and India needs to do the same.
Credit: The Times Of India, The Times Of India