Laura Dinneen is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article discusses the Baby Boomer generation in the context of an aging society.
It’s the summer of 1946 and the Second World War has been over for a little more than nine months. American GIs have returned victorious to the United States, which is experiencing great economic growth and an ever-increasing sense of optimism amongst the many newlyweds and first home buyers living the American Dream. Fighting against the sounds of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Eddy Howard on the airwaves, are the wails of new-born babies screaming throughout the nation. These were the first sounds of the earliest Baby Boomers, rippling across the globe from the United States to the UK, Australia, France, the Nordics, Hungary, Ireland; and then later Canada, Japan, and Germany.
More babies were born in 1946 than in any year in United States’ records – 3.4 million, 20% more than the 2.9 million babies born just one year before. 1947 saw more births still, at 3.8 million and a birth rate of 26.6 live births per 1,000 population. This was the beginning of what’s commonly known as the Baby Boom and a generational cohort of those born after the Second World War between 1946 and 1964 – the Baby Boomers. Much has been written about the Boomers, including a wealth of research and opinion attempting to assign particular character traits and a cultural identity to the cohort. It is clear is that this generation is significant in its influence, and marked by a strong shared experience. If they weren’t involved in changing the world through the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, Beatlemaina, fall of the Berlin Wall, and putting humans on the moon, they witnessed it changing together.
Fast forward to today where many Boomers are hitting retirement age, with the youngest aged 54 and the oldest 72 years old, and what we have is a global ageing society. Demographers have graphically described the Baby Boom generation as the pig in the python: the bulge in the population pyramids of many developed countries. That bulge is passing through the metaphorical python into retirement years and causing age distribution changes that have never been seen before. This change in age distribution is what demographers call the ageing society; a global rise in the percentage of people classified as ‘aged’ as a share of the total population.
If we keep it simple and define the ‘aged’ population as those aged 65 and over, we can start understanding how Boomers are impacting today’s ageing society. The percentage of over 65s is rising globally, from a fairly stable base of just 5% in the fifties and sixties through to 8.3% in 2015 and a projected 17% by 2055. Those are global figures. The state of the ageing population is far more drastic in key Boomer countries like the UK, Canada, USA, France, and Italy where over 65s made up 22.4% of the population in 2015 and are projected to swell to 34.1% by 2055.
The rate of this age distribution change has been rapidly increasing since 2010 when the oldest Boomers started hitting the age of 65. As Boomers continue to flood the over 65 age group, they are accelerating the rate at which the population is ageing. As the youngest Boomers enter this age group in 2029, grow older and eventually as the entire cohort begins to literally die out, this acceleration of our ageing society will begin to diminish. This is Peak Boomer.
Based on the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division’s projections, we will hit Peak Boomer in 2035, at which point the rapid growth of the aged population slows down. If this estimate is on point, it brings significant consequences for how we react and adapt to the ageing population. Is it possible for an aged society to be able to thrive, or even survive?
© Laura Dinneen, 2018