December 3, 2013

How seniors will change the face of society

In Canada, the post-World War II baby boom generation was born during a period of twenty years that began in 1946.

The first baby boomers reached age 65 — i.e., what used to be considered the normal cut-off date for employment — in 2011. Having been born in 1947, yours truly is in this grouping.

Between now and the mid-2020s, the percentage of the nation’s total population that will be 65-plus will climb from 14% to 25%.

That will be a big shift in the share taken by the “elderly”. Many of us don’t like being considered in that way, as elderly. We natter and fuss about it even as we enjoy seniors’ discounts at drug stores and cinemas.

This brings me to today’s topic — how the increasing presence of an older demographic will transform society.

I’ll speak in terms of “we” in order to impart a sense of authenticity, although fully realizing that my own experience with being older is not shared by everyone my age.

Just the same, surely I can capture some degree of commonality.

A major increase in the demand for health care and related medical services — both in- and out-patient (i.e., knee and hip replacements, cataract surgery, etc.) — as well growth of the “transitioning” industry (i.e., seniors’ residences) are obvious.

That’s not where I’ll be spending my time in this article.

Rather, I’d like to help retailers and others spot opportunities, while also fulfilling the self-serving goal of inspiring young entrepreneurs to consider what they can do for me specifically as the years (hopefully) continue to roll by.

I doubt my generation will leave the scene quietly.

We were the hippy generation. We all attended Woodstock, or so we’d like to think.

In the U.S., many of my contemporaries were called up to serve in the Vietnam War.

Due to the images that came back through news broadcasts, none of us was free of the horror taking place across the Pacific, no matter where we lived.

Our university years were spiced with protests. We take much of the credit for breaking society’s strictures on the rights of minorities, women and people with different sexual orientations.

It was all captured in our music, evolving from folk and rock and roll through the British Invasion to heavy metal and acid rock, growing louder at each stage.

We became an opinionated “bunch”. We invented many of the tools and refined the strategy to make ourselves heard.

We’ll continue to have a serious impact on politics. Elected officials will put their careers in jeopardy if they think they can easily keep us silent or trifle with our wishes.

Many of us will be content to continue working for as long as we can. But when those days are past, where will our interests lie?

We’ll want to stay active. Some of us like to line dance or practice tai chi. Others prefer to swim or play golf or curl or join a club where they can join in bouts of bridge, mahjong or darts.

Many of us are thrilled to take bus tours through wine country; browse in quaint craft stores; and wander casually around art galleries.

We like our pets. The Humane Society estimates there are 180 million dogs and cats living in homes in the United States. Putting that in perspective, more animals are being cared for than there are children.

The canine, feline and aviary (i.e., budgie, canary, parrot, etc.) population is only going to climb higher. Veterinarians, food processors and pet store owners should be paying attention.

We like to travel, although to what degree will be dependent on the state of our individual finances. Travel agents and on-line booking sites are already gearing up.

We’re becoming ambivalent about driving. Even if we’re okay with motoring around, we don’t like to park. Especially not in underground lots where the lighting is poor, directions are vague, laneways seem to contract and columns like to jump out at us.

Taxi drivers take note. Seniors like to hail cabs — to get around for luncheon and dinner engagements and to help carry home the groceries.

We treasure the theatre, not just live plays and movies, but also opera and ballet at a local venue. This is a new trend that is catching on, showing live broadcasts from the Met on screens in the hinterland.

We like to watch television in all forms — network, cable, streaming, downloads, legal or (hush) illegal, if we can grasp the technology.

We love the new trend in “binge” viewing (i.e., being able to see back-to-back-to-back episodes of our favorite shows).

We devour talk shows, especially the ones that promote discussion about contentious issues. I’ve heard that some of us are argumentative.

We’re also partial to business shows (in order to monitor our investment holdings) and dance shows (because those super-fit young people are so darn cute and “hot”) and home renovation and decorating shows.

We like to read. How the words are delivered will slip more and more into the realm of the digital.

We like to stay in touch with friends and relatives, which leads to another glaringly apparent observation. We love to chat. Many of us crave conversation and embrace dialogue with people at home and abroad. The latter is being facilitated by the emergence of Facebook, Twitter, Google-plus and other social media sites.

If we already have a hobby, we’ll want to indulge our interest more completely. Or maybe we’ll want to take up something new, like landscape or portrait painting in oils.

We’ll want to join discussion groups that will help with our leisure activities. Or expand our knowledge in certain unexplored areas.

We’ll want to “dabble” and “tinker” more, in our workshops or gardens. Or with knitting projects or coin/stamp collections.

I’m close to someone (okay, it’s my wife) who likes to take pictures at a blizzard pace and post them on the Internet. It’s fascinating how many of the activities I’ve mentioned are receiving a boost from some Web-based innovation.

We’ll want to reminisce and it will drive our progeny crazy.

If you ask my kids, I’m sure they’ll say I can be counted on to keep lecturing and scolding them. I won’t dwell on this, since I’m not sure how to monetize it. If I knew, I’d have a bigger nest egg to fall back on.

On a somber note, as more and more of us take that extra and irrevocable step beyond “the golden years”, those left behind will be watching a plethora of tribute shows.

Our individual accomplishments are probably going to be exaggerated.

Already, some of our self-congratulations are become boring and tedious.

On that note, paying heed to what I’ve just written, I’ll draw to an end for now.

For more articles by Alex Carrick on the Canadian and U.S. economies, please see his market insights. Mr. Carrick also has an economics blog.

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