Twenty years from now, the number of retired persons worldwide will have grown by 600 million, almost double the current number. Life expectancy will have increased, bringing new economic challenges. Yet the growing number of seniors can also stimulate important breakthroughs in medicine, biotechnology, nanotechnology, cognitive sciences and robotics, according to the report "Global Population Ageing and the Threat of Political Risks in the Light of Radical Technological Innovation in the Coming Decades."
The UN estimates that the number of people aged 65 and older will have reached almost a billion by 2030. The proportion of those aged over 80 will grow at particularly high rates, and their numbers are expected to reach 200 million by 2030 and triple that forty years later.
Due to a combination of an ageing population and declining birthrates, the demographic structure of most countries will change towards lower proportions of children and young people. As a result, the global division will no longer be between first- and third-world nations, but between old and young ones.
According to the researchers, an increase in the number of older people will:
A confrontation between generations in the labor market and the weakening of democracy are the key risks associated with longer life expectancy.
Longer life spans and a lower proportion of young people in society may lead to the predominance of 'third age' voters. Politicians will need to tailor their messages to older and perhaps more conservative electorates. According to the researchers, "democracy can transform into a form of gerontocracy which may be hard to overcome; under such circumstances, competition for voters may lead to a crisis of democratic governance."
A conflict between generations is another potential risk. As the retirement age increases, older employees will stay in the workforce longer – a situation which may hinder younger people's careers and slow down technological progress.A tendency towards gerontocracy has been particularly noticeable in Western Europe and the U.S., where democratic traditions are the strongest, but ethnic and cultural imbalances are increasingly visible. As a result, the U.S. may face confrontation between its younger Latinos and older white populations, and Europe may experience tensions between older white Christians and younger Muslims. Hence, globalization will inevitably cause such conflicts to transcend national borders and become global challenges.