As the World Ages, are we prepared to deal with the Consequences of the Shock of Grey

The Consequences arising from the Shock of Grey

The world is ageing before our eyes, and the moot question to ask ourselves as citizens of nations, as employees and workers of corporates, and as children of aged parents as to whether we are ready for the consequences of the so-called “Shock of Grey”.

This term refers to the ongoing explosion in the numbers of elderly people in the West when compared to the total population.

Statistics reveal that across the West, there are now more people over 50-60 years of age than under the same age bracket.

This means that in the future, there would be more demands on the healthcare sector to treat the sick and the infirm, increased outflow of social security funds and other forms of pension funds, and above all, a decrease in the workforce as far as participants are concerned since the labour pool would shrink with the retiring of the aged workers.

Indeed, these and other problems would haunt the West in the years to come and some experts already worry that we as a society are not prepared to deal with the consequences.

Germany’s Approach and What the Rest of the West can learn from it

Having said that, it is also the case that many Western Think Tanks and Business and Political Leaders are already grappling with the problems of having to deal with the Shock of Grey.

For instance, in Europe, Germany and its Chancellor, Angela Merkel, view the influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War and other conflict zones in Africa, as a Blessing in Disguise, as they can be used productively to fill in the gap between Demand and Supply of Workers or the Shortfall in the Labour pool.

Indeed, for once, immigration is now being seen as a good way to address the problems arising from retiring Baby Boomers (the generation who were born in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War).

On the other hand, it is regrettable that the United States and the United Kingdom have turned Xenophobic and Intolerant to immigrants who can be a source of cheap labour and who can step into the gap between the number of jobs and the numbers of available workers.

Moreover, corporates in the US are already petitioning and lobbying the government to take on more immigrants as then they need not worry about a shrinking workforce.

Burdened Healthcare Systems and Deficient Pension Funds

Another consequence of an ageing world is the stress on the healthcare sector and the increased load on the social security and the pension funds.

An ageing population means that the elderly would need some sort of material support either from the government or their employers and this presents its own challenges especially when one considers the dire straits of finances of the US Government.

Already there are reports that in the future, social security and pension funds would not be able to meet the outflows that are needed to sustain an aged population.

What is more worrying is that even the 401(k) plans that are funded from the employee and employers shares are supposed to be inadequate to deal with the increased outflows.

Thus, these developments indicate that the US would have a crisis on its hands in the near future.

In addition, with the ongoing tussle between Republicans and Democrats about the kind of Healthcare insurance that is needed, it is anybody’s guess as to how much the ensuing solution would be able to meet the healthcare demands of an elderly population.

Again, it is regrettable that the healthcare plan championed by President Obama and called Obamacare is now being rolled back.

India, the Demographic Dividend, and the Need to Deal with Ageing

While we have discussed the consequences of an ageing population in the West and especially the US, it is also the case that Asian countries too have other challenges arising from Demographics.

For instance, the Indian population is youthful and conforms to what economists call the Demographic Dividend.

However, it is a fact that the population has significant numbers of elderly and this is reason enough for policymakers to take up initiatives to address them.

Indeed, in India, the present situation of mushrooming Old Age Homes is a reflection on some of the challenges facing the country.

Even in the West, it is becoming impossible for the Gen Xers and the Millennials to take care of their aged parents and like in India, there is a readymade market for nursing assistants, caretakers, and other forms of caregivers.

Moreover, the present state of the healthcare infrastructure in India is such that it is unable and simply inadequate to deal with the consequence of an elderly and infirm population.

I am sure most of you reading this article would have faced some challenges in dealing with the aged and the elderly members of your families.


Lastly, we should not let our countries become places where the movie, No Country for the Old, is true.

After all, the aged now were young earlier and it was only due to their efforts as productive members of society that the nations and the corporations were built and sustained.

Therefore, the least we can do is to not get intimated by the Shock of Grey and instead, use it as a Gift of Age to find solutions to the problems and consequences of an ageing population.

To conclude, we are now on the Cusp of a Demographic Revolution and hence, the choices we make now would determine our and our ageing citizens in the future.

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