PROJECTING THE FUTURE SERIES - CHALLENGE PAPER THREE
Ageing and Demographics: The 100-year life
Longevity and the change in intergenerational needs will present major challenges to project professionals.
This is the third in a series of challenge papers which are taking a closer look at different aspects of our changing world and the implications for the project profession.
It examines the rise in human longevity and the changing demographics facing the UK and many other nations around the world. It is a story of incredible progress in healthcare, in economic development and in the lifting of living standards globally – yet it is also a trend that raises complex issues.
In the UK and around the world, people are living longer. Life expectancy is increasing, average ages are rising, and older people are becoming a bigger proportion of society. The prospect of a 100-year life is a reality for as many as half of today’s babies, according to some experts.
To describe this as a ‘challenge’ could seem ungrateful: longer life for more of humanity is a triumph, the result of historic progress in tackling poverty, fighting disease and improving healthcare.
Yet longer human lives could be one of the most transformative of the trends explored in Projecting the Future. Credit agency Standard & Poor’s has argued that ageing populations will lead to “profound changes” in growth prospects for countries around the world as age-related spending puts increasing pressure on public finances.
Bigger populations of older people mean greater care requirements, and as the balance between the traditional ‘working age’ population and old-age population shifts, tough questions emerge about how health and social care should be funded.
In the UK, the ageing society is one of the four Grand Challenges in the government’s 2017 Industrial Strategy, which sets out the aim of harnessing the “power of innovation” to meet the needs of an ageing society. Part of the strategy is to accelerate the use of sophisticated technologies for ground-breaking medical research – for instance in mapping the human genome – allowing better anticipation, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease and chronic conditions.
The net effect of increasing longevity has been, to date, an increase in global populations: over 7 billion today, it is set to hit 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by mid-century. Most of the fastest-growing nations are in Africa, where enormous population growth is forecast. By contrast, population growth is slowing in many parts of the world, including the UK, as fertility levels fall: indeed, for many Western countries, populations are forecast to start declining before the end of the 21st century.
These dynamics are already resulting in significant changes in the age profile of the population in countries like the UK. Older people constitute an ever-larger proportion of the whole, with the working population shrinking by comparison. From an economic perspective, that is a change of profound importance. How can fewer working people support a growing older population? Statutory retirement ages have started to change across the Western world: how will the idea of retirement change in the years ahead? What contribution should citizens make to their own later-life care, and what is the state’s role? And what is needed by way of infrastructure and social support, for example in housing, transport, or care systems, as the population’s needs change?
These complex issues are connected to equally challenging questions around intergenerational wealth and asset ownership. Younger people today lack the levels of asset wealth enjoyed by previous generations at the same age.
Is this ‘wealth deferred’, a temporary delay as the baby boomers grow old, or does it represent a more permanent structural shift in wealth? In either case, how should policymakers respond, and how will change be delivered?
The ageing population will drive changes across the economy, as demand grows for goods and services suited to their needs, reflecting the increasing purchasing power of older people as a demographic group. Those changes will invariably need to be achieved through projects.
Longer lives are much to be welcomed but adapting to them will be far from simple.
OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES
THE 100-YEAR LIFE
Official life expectancy for babies born in the UK today is 79.2 years for men and 82.9 for women. One in three can expect to live to 100 – and indeed, it is already estimated that 10m people who are alive today will live past 100. Commentators like Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, authors of The 100-Year Life, go further. They argue that official expectations have historically been conservative compared to actual longevity gains, and suggest that more than half of today’s babies can expect to live past 100 in the UK and other rich countries. Others, however, are sceptical, and contend that extrapolating from the trends of recent decades is misleading: they point to slowing increases in life expectancy in recent years and to the rise of life-style related conditions and diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes in children.
One of the trends associated with the booming older population is the difficulty faced by younger generations in building asset wealth. The Intergenerational Commission found that millennial families are only half as likely to own their home by age 30 as their baby boomer predecessors. Millennials are four times more likely to rent, and they spend more of their income on housing. In his influential book on this generational shift, politician David Willetts accused baby boomers of having “stolen their children’s future”.
The NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019, recognises the importance of preventative healthcare and discusses the challenges of an ageing population. It states that connected home-based and wearable monitoring equipment will enable the NHS to predict and prevent health events which would otherwise have led to a hospital admission. That might include scales to monitor a patient’s post-operation weight, a location tracker for a dementia patient, or a home testing kit for patients on blood thinners. The Plan recognises the need for “major work to digitise community services” if the NHS is to take advantage of technological progress – work that will of course generate substantial projects.
AGEING IS A GLOBAL TREND
Similar population trends to those of the UK are to be found in other industrialised nations around the world, and globally, the old age population is soaring. In 2017 there were 962m older people around the world, up from 382m in 1980; the number is set to reach 2.1bn by 2050. That represents a proportional shift from one in eight of today’s population to one in five. Europe is “currently the oldest continent with the highest old-age dependency ratio, and will remain so in 2070”. Presently, only Japan has an older population of more than 30%, and while 64 other countries will join it by 2050, Japan has by some distance the oldest population in the world today, with challenging implications for economic growth, productivity, healthcare and society.
To view the full list of challenges and opportunities, download the challenge paper at the bottom of the page.
A PROJECT PROFESSION VIEW
We look at some of the potential implications of the revolution in human longevity for the project profession.
Any assessment of the impact of ageing populations and changing demographics has to start with the fact that ageing populations are a trend to be celebrated: the result of human ingenuity and triumphs in diverse fields across science, medicine, and economic development. Undeniably, though, these successes also bring with them a host of complex issues.
Transformative projects will also be needed to deliver reform of social care for older people with chronic conditions and end-of-life care, but there is as yet no coherent approach to reform, nor consensus on some of the profound questions that need to be settled.
How should we fund better care? ... What is the role of the state, and what will individuals pay? ...
The policy challenges over health and social care are some of the most complex problems facing policy-makers, but it is vital that progress be made in the years ahead. For a way forward, we might look at one successful transformational project, pension auto-enrolment – yet even this took over a decade of development to be delivered, and there was much greater consensus about the aims of change than is to be found around care today.
There are connections to other Challenges too.
Demographics affect climate change: population growth around the world pushes resource use and greenhouse gas emissions upwards, even as governments adopt net-zero emissions targets. Older populations will demand different forms of mobility and transport (the subject of the next Challenge paper) – indeed, one US survey found that autonomous vehicles were the number one emerging technology wanted by older people. And cities will need to change to reflect different ways of living, for example in how homes are designed and community spaces built.
The growth of the older population is set to create enormous opportunities and challenges for the project profession for years to come. Project professionals will be at the heart of how successful change is delivered.
KEY QUESTIONS FOR THE PROJECT PROFESSION
Throughout Projecting the Future, we want to explore the questions that matter about the future of the project profession.
We want to hear your views, ideas and case studies relating to these questions – and if we have missed a critical question that you think needs to be discussed, we want to hear that too.
VIEW KEY QUESTIONS AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION
- How do you think that demographic change and longer lives could affect the project profession? How will the issues covered in this paper affect you personally?
- Should the key challenges raised by the changing demographics and increasing longevity be reflected in project management toolkits? How?
- Do public or consumer-facing products and services currently take adequate account of older people’s needs? How could projects that you are involved in be adapted to better suit an older population?
- How will the emergence of more multigenerational workplaces and teams, and less linear career paths, affect career progression for project professionals? What advantages are there from more age-diverse project teams?
- How will project professionals need to develop their skillsets over the course of their careers? How does the prospect of a longer working life shape your own expectations and plans for your professional development? How could you use project management skills to plot your own route through an extended working life and lengthy retirement?
- If more professional development will be needed throughout life, who will be responsible for making it happen? What are the responsibilities of employers, professional bodies, government, and individual professionals?
- Which sectors will be impacted most by demographic change? Are the challenges vastly different across different societies, and can lessons be learned from other parts of the world?
- How will the changes associated with the ageing society be impacted by other cross-cutting challenges, like climate change, new technology or changing work patterns?
- Is there anything else not addressed here that the project profession needs to be discussing in relation to the impact of ageing, demographics and the 100-year life?
We are particularly keen to hear about case studies of projects and strategies that reflect the needs of an ageing population in some way.