As we all know, America’s population is getting older and older. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, by 2030 there will be 72.1 million people over age 65 in this country — more than double what there was in 2000.
Normally, following statistics such as this are comments about what this rapid increase in elderly people will do to the healthcare system and the labor market, but a new study published in the PLOS ONE journal suggests that it might also enhance innovation and produce other positive benefits.
The “The Advantages of Demographic Change after the Wave: Fewer and Older, but Healthier, Greener, and More Productive?” study, led by researcher Fanny Kluge of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, finds a number of silver linings to the approaching demographic cloud.
For instance, the researchers speculate that the fact that these older people will drive less and consume fewer goods will lead to a decrease in CO2 emissions. “The expected reduction in the levels of carbon emissions due to population decline could be even greater if more environmentally-friendly technologies are adopted,” they write.
They observe that the overall educational attainment level of the population is increasing, which could lead to productivity gains that may offset the loss of workers. They write, “The higher educational attainment at the population level can be advantageous for economic growth.”
In an analysis of the research published in the Washington Post, Dominic Basulto writes that with more of the population enjoying greater free time, there could be a surge in innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs. In other words, we might have to change our image of college-age entrepreneurs working so furiously at startups that they can’t even properly eat to that of a more seasoned entrepreneur, launching a business at age 65 and staying active and financially secure in retirement.
“Life expectancy is increasing almost universally,” the researchers note, “and the health status of the older population is improving.” These are both good reasons to cheer up and look forward to America’s grayer future.