Since the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” opened in my home town of Kelowna, British Columbia, it has become the talk of the seniors who make up more than 19.2% of the city’s population. Watching aging actors portrayed as vibrant, interesting people instead of doddering oldsters — or missing from the action entirely — is a rare experience in a culture where ageism is still an acceptable prejudice.
As baby boomers move out of their peak working years, that may change. It could get worse, if the trend toward pitting generations against each other continues. On the other hand, it could improve if innovative solutions replace gloomy rhetoric.
Statistics Canada has just added to the conversation by releasing another section of the 2011 census, this one on age and sex. To no one’s surprise, the percentage of Canadians 65 or older has increased 14.1% since 2006. That percentage will increase steadily as those born between 1946 and 1965 move into their senior years.
At the same time, the percentage of workers will drop. In 1991, when the first boomers reached 45, only 28.6% of the population was between 45 and 64. In 2011, that figure rose to 42.4%.
Two figures in the report may slightly offset some of the alarm being raised over the report. The first is that there are roughly the same number of people in the 15 to 24 age group as in the 55 to 64. That means there are about as many people entering the workforce as there are preparing to leave it.
The second figure is an increase in toddlers. For the first time in 50 years, the number of children 4 and under increased in every province. While not a population bulge to match the baby boom, it is still an increase that will have an impact. Maybe this time policy makers will actually plan for it.
The implications of the greying of the Canadian populace have demographers and policy makers making a lot of dire predictions, but the phenomenon should surprise no one. While governments were limiting the number of spots open in medical schools and lowering taxes, the need for more doctors and an infrastructure capable of handling an increasing number of seniors kept rolling inexorably forward.
Then, as the first wave of boomers neared their 65th birthdays, the global economy crashed through their retirement savings. It lowered the value of their homes and stripped many of their pensions. It also ensured that a lot of their children would be unable to find jobs and would need financial support. At the same time, the boomers’ aging parents began requiring more assistance.
The impact of an aging populace is very real, but the demographic shift is far more complex than the number of years any generation has spent on the planet. Assuming an entire generation will become an unbearable burden ignores trends such as healthier aging and fewer disabilities.
Besides, if the boomers fulfill fears they will be more demanding oldsters, they will be doing a favor to all those heading into their final years. Less ageism would make the years heading toward the last check-out door a lot better for everyone.
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