The new demographics promise nothing less than a redefinition of the stages of life Amrita Shah THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, November 08, 2001
An advertising executive in Hong Kong once gave me an intriguing explanation for the rising divorce rate all over the world. People, he claimed, married on the principle of ‘‘till death do us part’’ secure in the knowledge that the end was a mere couple of decades away. With life expectancy rates having increased by leaps and bounds over the years, he surmised, ‘forever’ suddenly became too long to spend with one partner and as a result multiple relationships increased.
I do not know if there is any scientific evidence to support the above theory. But the eminent writer and professor of social science and management, Peter Drucker, writing in the latest issue of The Economist, draws a similar connection between longevity and work. In the near future, claims Drucker, people will keep working till their mid-seventies and in all likelihood switch careers or types of jobs as 50 years of a working life unprecedented in human history is simply too long for one kind of work. This means, that in years to come, we will have a shrinking segment of youth and a burgeoning one of the aged. The shift has the potential to transform life as we know it.
Drucker, looking specifically at the workforce, predicts that retirement benefits will start at a later age and will decrease in size with the corresponding increase in the number of claimants. Drucker also predicts that developed countries with their rapidly declining and aging populations will need to import labour. The kind of upheaval large scale immigration can create is mind-boggling. The possibility of a backlash in countries that are not used to such large numbers of foreigners is one possible effect as is the potential for growing multiculturalism, mixed marriages and so on. Such specifics apart, however, the new demographics promises nothing less than the redefinition of the various stages of life. What will childhood mean? And youth? And maturity? A recent study for instance reached the conclusion that adulthood was no longer achieved at 21. The modern youth, it maintains, has to live a full 35 years to be considered an adult. Contradictions abound though. The old, for instance, have become increasingly youthful thanks to medical advances, fitness fads and other factors. Children, on the other hand, are growing up faster than ever before, weaned as they are on a range of sophisticated sources of information, toys and gizmos. ‘‘The line,’’ it claimed, ‘‘between maturity and childhood has blurred or vanished completely.’’ It is these shifts and blurs that are certain to go some way in shaping the future.