I was in Chicago speaking at the What’s Next Baby Boomer Summit last week and heard a tremendous talk about the world’s population from Greg O’Neill, the Director of the National Academy on an Aging Society. In addition to startling facts about the aging of the US population – did you know that between 2000 and 2010 there was a nearly 50% growth in people between the ages of 55 and 64? – Greg included images of sculptures made by Mathieu Lehanneur (click on #36 “Demographic Jars”). The artist represented different countries’ populations through three-dimensional sculptures and brought to life the various age charts we’ve seen over the years.
The visceral impact of seeing these shapes and then thinking through the implications is unsettling. Even the artist acknowledges this effect in his statement: “Age of the World is opening a perspective designed to freak us all out.”
What’s unnerving is how much history can be understood by looking at the shapes of these objects. For example, WWII finishes and the US sees a giant explosion of population, and we can see the booms and busts in the Russian population from its participation in two World Wars.
And what does this tell us as we look to the future? Mexico, Egpyt and Iran are having a huge surge in the youngest members of its population which will likely create changes in those countries and those around them. And in the US, we see the continued “pig in a python” effect of the baby boomer generation as those nearly 80 million individuals start turning 65 this year.
The health of these individuals, and, ultimately, the health of the country, will depend upon our ability to make choices and shape incentives that keep each of us engaged socially, physically active, eating healthy, and challenging our intellect. There is much this cohort can do to keep productive and add back to society by staying of sound body and mind.